Sept. 29, 2021

Poignant reminders that Every Child Matters light up UCalgary campus

For 4 nights, 4 logos light up on-campus buildings in 4 directions — a night light tribute to the children lost or impacted by the residential school system
The Every Child Matters night light tribute outside the Taylor Family Digital Library at UCalgary
The Every Child Matters night light tribute outside the Taylor Family Digital Library at UCalgary Rich Farr, Advancement

Many children are afraid of the dark.

Imagine, then, being a child forcefully removed from your home, spoken to in a language you did not understand, asked to conform to a culture foreign to you, taught by people you did not know and left alone to heal your own emotional wounds that grew deeper by the day the longer you were kept away from the safety of family.

This was a common experience of children who were sent to residential schools in Canada, and a window into the depth of resilience required of these children to survive. 

For four nights, from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, four large-scale projections of light will shine brightly across campus landscape with the familiar Every Child Matters message. This night light tribute is a memorial to the children taken or traumatized by the residential school system and will be visible from four directions — from the Social Sciences building (north and south sides), Schulich School of Engineering building (west), and Craigie Hall (east).

Dr. Michael Hart, vice-provost of the Office of Indigenous Engagement and associate vice-president research, provides a better understanding of the lasting impacts caused by the residential school system and an understanding of the meaning behind UCalgary’s light tribute.

Q. Why is it important that the nightlight tribute is happening at night?

A. While such a tribute is important for any time of day, it is important to acknowledge that residential schools consumed the children’s whole lives — day and night.

Canadians have been told about terrible events and actions that the children experienced in residential school, including at night. For many children, it’s at night when they are likely to feel the most alone, isolated and vulnerable. Children in residential schools were forced to live in impersonal spaces and with adults in a position of authority who did not ensure their safety. For many of them, their fears were real with traumatic events taking place in the darkness of night.

Q. What is the significance of light? 

A. In this nightlight tribute, light symbolizes that we can never lose sight of the children and must remember all they experienced.

The light shines on those aspects of Canada not well seen, whether these aspects are the past abuses within and by residential schools against individuals, families, and nations, or current intergenerational traumas stemming from residential schools.

It is the light that helps us now see the full journey all of us are on. Light can help us remember and figure out how to move forward in better ways.

Q. What is the significance of the number four? This tribute emphasizes this number – why?

A. The number four is important for many Indigenous Peoples and worldviews. There are four aspects of life (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual), four stages of life (children, youth, adults, Elders), four directions, and four aspects of societies (social, economic, political, cultural), and more. Reflecting the significance of the number four, we honour and reflect this key aspect of many Indigenous cultures as a way to demonstrate our growing understandings.

Q. What is the significance of having this display being seen from the four directions? 

A. By shining in all directions, we recognize the ideas of a wholistic perspective — we are practically and metaphorically reaching out to all people from all parts of our community, city, region, nation, and beyond. We are noting that we all have a part to play in honouring the children and survivors of residential schools, as well as those impacted intergenerationally.

Q. What does it mean to you that UCalgary supported this tribute? 

A. While some may take the view that the light tribute is just a display and doesn’t reflect the actions needed, I see the lights as one representation of the commitment I witness within the university and those engaging with us. It represents the belief that we can journey together in a good way and do things differently. It represents that we have our eyes open, seeing the impacts — past and present — and are committed to ensuring that we do better. It represents hope as we are committed to our shared future and moving together in a good way.

Visit the Office of Indigenous Engagement’s ii’ taa’poh’to’p strategy for more information.

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, “in a good way,” UCalgary is moving toward genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.

The Office of Indigenous Engagement and ii' taa'poh'to'p guide UCalgary on its path of transformation and communicate its commitment and responsibility for truth and reconciliation.