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Williams Lake First Nation to analyze grounds near former residential school

Williams Lake First Nation is preparing to analyze grounds near the former St. Joseph's Mission Residential School for unmarked graves.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Williams Lake First Nation
June 15, 2021 - 3:29 PM

Williams Lake First Nation is preparing to analyze grounds near the former St. Joseph's Mission Residential School for unmarked graves.

Chief Willie Sellars said in a new release the last two weeks have been a "whirlwind of emotion" as the community grapples with the burial sites found near the Kamloops school, but it has spurred a response to carry out that work in Williams Lake.

The discovery of 215 children buried in unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Residential School have reopened wounds for residential school survivors and their families throughout B.C. Tk'emlups te Secwepemc conducted work with ground penetrating radar to confirm the burial site, and Williams Lake First Nation is preparing to mimic that work with similar technology.

As the Williams Lake First Nation continues ceremonies and consults with community elders, Chief Sellars said the completing the investigation may help some find a form of closure.

"The legacy of St. Joseph’s extends well beyond WLFN, or even the Secwepemc, and has impact on the Tsilhqot'in, Dakelh and other aboriginal groups," Sellars said in the release. "It is clear from discussions with elders in our community, and other communities, that there is considerable knowledge about the horrendous abuse and atrocities that took place in our backyard for nearly a century."

Sellars has been in communication with Federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller to determine what funding is available.

"Canada has acknowledged that funding support will be made available to Indigenous communities across the country once a formal proposal has been submitted to decision makers," Sellars said.

St. Joseph's Indian Residential School opened in 1891, where it operated under the Roman Catholic Church until 1969. It then continued to be managed by the federal government until it closed on June 30, 1981, according to Truth and Reconciliation Commission records. There are no records available to show which grades were taught at the school, but students were taken to the school from many bands, including Alexandria, Kamloops, Quesnel, Bonaparte and Williams Lake.

A historic image of the St. Joseph's Indian Residential School near Williams Lake.
A historic image of the St. Joseph's Indian Residential School near Williams Lake.
Image Credit: Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Williams Lake First Nation has held three ceremonies since the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc announcement on May 27, including a four-day sacred fire.

"Our Elders have reminded us that there is nothing political about honouring our lost loved ones," councillor Shawma Philbrick said in the release. "Empathy, compassion, and honouring our ancestors’ knowledge will give our community strength as we advance this important search."

There are no dates available yet to determine when work will begin, but the search will be led by a mixed team of community elders, cultural advisors, archaeological professionals, Williams Lake First Nation staff and carefully selected professional partners.

"We encourage the citizens of this country to continue to stand with our survivors and leaders, especially on June 21 during National Aboriginal Day so that we can jointly hold responsible the governments and religious groups involved in the administration of Canadian residential schools," Sellars said.

"This accountability includes providing access to records so that we identify any children who might have disappeared at St. Joseph’s Mission."


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