First Nation says search finds 66 potential new burial sites at former B.C. residential school

Click to play video: '66 more potential graves found at former residential school near Williams Lake'
66 more potential graves found at former residential school near Williams Lake
The ongoing search for potential graves at a former residential school site near Williams Lake could indicate the remains of dozens more indigenous children. As Kylie Stanton reports, the findings could reveal the extent of the crimes at St. Joseph's Mission over a period of decades – Jan 25, 2023

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

There have been more indications of potential grave sites found at the site of a former residential school in Williams Lake.

The Williams Lake First Nation said 66 “reflections,” displaying characteristics indicative of potential human remains have been found on the grounds of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.

These reflections are not part of any specific burial sites at the former site.

The sensor readings were discovered with the use of ground penetrating radar in Phase 2 of the investigation.

Phase I previously found 93 reflections or possible burial sites.

Whitney Spearing, the lead investigator at the site said historical records indicate 16 children died while attending the school, but their investigation has revealed a minimum of 28 children died while attending the school.

“We are also aware that many of these children are buried at the mission in unmarked graves,” she said.

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B.C. residential school survivor says Trudeau’s visit will not help him heal

Chief Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation said it is important to remember that these results are “preliminary and only reflect the work conducted to date.”

There are 782 hectares of land identified as requiring investigation around this site.

Only 34 hectares have been subjected to geophysical analysis so far.

A preliminary search in 2021 found what the First Nation said were 93 “reflections,” indicating unmarked graves of children around the now-closed school, roughly 500 kilometres north of Vancouver.

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Following the announcement, the Nation said a Sacred Fire will burn until Saturday night and will include health and wellness supports for those affected.

Sellars said the second phase of the investigation at St. Joseph’s Mission has given his First Nation “greater clarity” about what must happen next.

Click to play video: '’93 is our number.’ Williams Lake First Nation finds possible burial sites'
’93 is our number.’ Williams Lake First Nation finds possible burial sites

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Phyllis Webstad, the founder of the Orange Shirt Society, attended the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.

It was on her first day at this school when her orange shirt was taken away.

“How does one prepare for this news?” she said in a statement. “How do we prepare for the news that confirms what we have known to be true? We, as Survivors, have had to sit with this truth our entire lives and now, finally, the rest of the world is realizing these truths too. Even though we have all come to the same conclusion – that what happened at these schools is abuse and in some cases murder – we still have to sit with the knowledge that our loved ones will never return home. That knowledge has never been, nor will ever be, easy to process.

“Though it is difficult, this news once again validates our truths as Survivors. That’s why the continuation of this work is so important. We cannot have Reconciliation without the Truth, and the confirmation of children’s remains found at The Mission serves as validation of our truths. Now that our truths are being acknowledged, it’s time to take action. To the rest of this nation known as Canada, I ask that you continue to listen and acknowledge the past.”

The probe into the possibility of finding human remains began after ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be more than 200 graves at the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., prompting similar searches at former schools in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation lists 4,130 names on its memorial register of children who never returned home from forced attendance at residential schools across Canada.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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