The Williams Lake First Nation (T’exelcemc) is preparing to investigate the grounds of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School for any evidence of unmarked graves.
The First Nation hopes to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey of its own, announcing its intention just weeks after the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced it had found, with the use of the radar technology, what is believed to be the unmarked graves of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The property on which St. Joseph’s is located, along with the adjacent ranch lands, are privately owned, but initial discussions have indicated the landowners are supportive of the band’s desire to complete the search, a press release from the Williams Lake band stated.
Chief Willie Sellars said discussions with elders in the community revealed knowledge of abuse and atrocities that took place at the school.
“It is time to complete the investigation and, hopefully, find some form of closure on this terrible chapter of Canadian history,” he said.
Sellars said the federal government has acknowledged funding support will be made available to Indigenous communities across the country once a formal proposal has been submitted.
“We urge all levels of government to be solution-oriented as we attempt to more clearly understand the scope of the residential school atrocities and endeavour to move forward on this healing journey,” Sellars said.
Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir told reporters during a press conference this week that Tk’emlups stands with the Williams Lake First Nation.
“We understand the deep wounds that these findings and investigations open up for survivors and intergenerational survivors,” Casimir said, noting all Canadians need to acknowledge and come to terms with the harsh truth of residential school history so there may be collective healing.
Williams Lake is located about 280 kilometres northwest of Kamloops and located within the Secwépemc Nation.
St Joseph’s Mission was operated as an Indian Residential School between 1886 and 1981. Thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the school, which was administered by the Catholic Oblates as part of the residential school system set up by the federal government.
Casimir said her sympathies go out to communities that have recently confirmed unmarked grave sites and missing children on grounds of former residential schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“Our hearts are with you and all communities affected,” Casimir said. “We grieve these latest findings brought to light with the help of science.”
Casimir said she expects more missing children and unmarked graves will be confirmed.
Tk’emlúps had attempted searches of possible gravesites since the early 2000s, spurred on by long-held beliefs amongst its community of such locations.
The discovery quickly prompted other bands to inquire with Tk’emlups about employing a ground-penetrating radar specialist in the days immediately following the May 27 announcement pertaining to the remains.