66 potential grave sites located at former BC residential school

Photo by: Chris Robert on Unsplash

Williams Lake First Nation investigators have recently detected 66 potential grave sites at a former residential school in British Columbia.

The findings, which were released last Wednesday, Jan. 25, were the subject of a year-long investigation and geophysical survey of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, located 15 kilometres outside of Williams Lake, B.C.

St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School opened in 1891 and ran until 1981. The recent findings at the institution were part of the latest phase of the same investigation, which found 93 similar discoveries just a year ago. These burial sites were located on a small segment of land near the school.

Such findings barely graze the surface when it comes to residential school investigations. Earlier this month about 2,000 “anomalies” were found by a Saskatchewan First Nation. The findings are likely to be the graves of children who attended a residential school in Lebret. Meanwhile, 171 “plausible” graves were detected in Kenora, Ontario, just days later.

Subsequent investigations have become increasingly frequent following the finding of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in May 2021. The school, which shut down in 1978, was the largest in the residential system, having opened under the Roman Catholic administration in the 1890s. The school had as many as 500 students at a time. 

Such findings from nearly two years ago sparked pain and outrage nationwide. At the time of the release of such information, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deemed it to be an unfortunate reminder of a “shameful chapter of our country’s history.”

Kamloops Indian Residential School and St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School are just two of the over 130 residential schools which operated in Canada. Of these institutions, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were in attendance. Of these children, it is estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 individuals died while in attendance. 

The last residential school, Kivalliq Hall in Rankin Inlet, now recognized as Nunavut, closed in 1997.

Recent revelations of the residential school system have contributed to the lawsuit filed in 2012 over the destruction of both language and culture from the system. The suit, also known as the Gottfriedson case, reached an agreement this Saturday, Jan. 21 between the federal government and 325 First Nations for $2.8 billion.

Though the agreement has yet to be approved by a Federal Court before being dispersed to recipients, Canada has agreed to pay the settlement money into a new 20-year-long trust fund. The fund will be run independently by the federal government.

The Gottfriedson case earned its name after former B.C. regional chief, Shane Gottfriedson, filed the case alongside Shíshálh councillor Gary Feschuk. The case consisted of the band reparations claim and the day scholars claim, who were left out of the 2006 residential schools settlement. The case was partially settled in June 2021 following the federal government’s agreement to compensate survivors and their descendants.

The remaining aspects of the case were headed to be dealt with in court until negotiations began in the fall of 2022, causing the eventual $2.8 billion settlement.

Following the settlement, Indigenous nations will also be given the power to lead their own cultural revival efforts with the settlement. More details surrounding how the funds will be dispersed are to come. 

Although the new settlement is only a fraction of the debt our nation is paying in return for the harm caused to Indigenous nations, the federal decision marks a step in the right direction toward reparation.

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