TORONTO -- A group of second graders in Manitoba have come up with a special tribute to the children who died in Canada’s residential school system, penning a poem after their teacher taught them about what happened at these schools.

At Oak Bank Elementary in Oakbank, Man., a class of seven-year-old children wanted to do something after they heard about how thousands of Indigenous children, many of whom would’ve been no older than them, were forced into residential schools.

In response, they put together a poem, illustrated and written by the students, in honour of the 215 children who are believed to have been found in unmarked graves near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. last month.

“Gone but never Forgotten,” is the title of the poem. A video posted to YouTube also features the children reading their poem aloud.

“The wind howls in mourning for the children,” part of the poem reads. “The children were buried but the Earth cradled them until they were thankfully found.”

Teacher Tina Latrofa said she wanted to educate her students about a part of our history that prior generations never learned. She showed them pictures of residential schools and talked about how the students stayed there for months or years.

“Their main words are: ‘How could they do that? How could they take the children away from their parents?’” Latrofa said. “And that’s how they can relate to it.”

In class discussions the students talked and their teacher helped them put their feelings into words and drawings to create the poem.

“The words took me, took my heart away, I was so blown away,” Tina Latrofa said.

“When I heard about those 215 kids, I just felt so heartbroken,” Kara Brinkman, a second-grade student who contributed to the poem, told CTV News. “I just felt like I wanted to do something to make everyone notice that.”

It’s led to a new understanding and feeling of empathy among the students.

“I want people to not forget it, and I also don’t want it to happen again,” said Elayna Telford, another student.

Her classmate, Hunter Van Rysell, added that it makes them think of “how lucky we are to have parents to go back to every single day when those children [could] not.”

School curriculums often don’t teach younger children about residential schools, and when the topic does come up in later grades, it has often been glossed over.

Recently, school boards such as the Calgary Board of Education and the Toronto District School Board have pledged to improve curriculums and further Indigenous education in the classroom, as was called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s report.


If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.