Arts & Culture

“215+” An Ofrenda for Indigenous Children

Adrian Cerrato, contributor

Photo of the ofrenda for lost Indigenous children featuring the Quiroz’s children sitting in front of the piece, taken by Adrian Cerrato

In the late spring of 2021, devastating discoveries were made for the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation. Archeological investigation found more than 215 bodies of children who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada. In response to these unprecedented findings, the Indigenous Roots Cultural Center has collaborated with First Nation elders to create an ofrenda, an altar in honor of the dead that is commonly used in celebration for Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos holiday celebrated at the beginning of November. 

The co-founder, Mary Anne Quiroz, says “as soon as the children were found, we collaborated with grandmothers and native elders to commemorate and heal.” Throughout the summer, hundreds of spirit medicine dolls were sown to symbolize the children. The dolls’ materials include buffalo hide, sage, and medicinal herbs that abide to Indigenous spirituality. Coincidentally, the dolls were finished near the Day of the Dead. “We were given the opportunity to combine cultural practices that help the healing process” said Quiroz. Native and Latino heritage have collaborated to express spirituality and intergenerational trauma. 

The Indigenous Roots center offers space for cultural arts and activism for BIPOC communities. As the summer progressed, thousands of more children were uncovered in boarding institutions across North America. Members of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtil, Indigenous Roots, and Lakota elders offered flowers, songs, and dances to pray for the children. On the weekend of the Day of the Dead, a spiritual prayer was given by Lakota elders. The ofrenda in now open in exhibit at the center until the end of November. 

The exhibit also includes poetry, photographs of residential schools, featured artists and herbal offerings. In the “Letter of Reflections” section, the doll makers wrote poetry and prayers for the children discovered in these residential schools. 

Cultural practices and prayers such as these serve to commemorate the lives of these children found victim to genocidal regimes in honor. This exhibit was created to ensure their spiritual journey in the afterlife is protected and guided by allies and families and give them the respect and recognition they deserve. The boarding and residential institutions were one of the many tactics to divide and conquer Indigenous peoples, but they now move forward to foster healing practices for the intergenerational trauma done to BIPOC communities. 

You can pay respects to the ofrenda personally, by visiting the exhibit at the Indigenous Roots Art Center in St Paul. It will be open to everyone till the end of November.