From 1886 to 1981, thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the St. Joseph’s Mission (SJM) Residential School near the Williams Lake First Nation.
Many did not return to their homes.
Now, the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) is conducting an investigation to find out what happened to them.
On Nov. 14, the St Joseph’s Mission Residential School investigation team held an engagement session in Mount Currie’s Úll’us Community Complex, with Lil’wat Nation survivors and their families invited to attend.
At the session, the team shared more about the ongoing investigation of the site with attendees.
The investigation began in July 2021, and consists of four key components: Geophysical investigation; archival and photographic research; survivor interviews; and engagement (community, family, frontline, and political).
The geophysical investigation began in August 2021, during which ground-penetrating radar was used to survey the area. Through that process, the team found 93 “reflections” on the former school site, each of which shows “characteristics indicative of human burials,” the team said.
An additional 18 hectares were later surveyed, and 66 more reflections, also displaying characteristics indicative of potential human remains, were identified.
“WLFN emphasizes that no geophysical investigation can provide absolute certainty as to the presence of human remains, and that excavation of these reflection areas would be required to make a definitive determination,” the team notes on its website.
The First Nation began its investigation into the school site after the discovery in May 2021 of potential human remains buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The Lil’wat Nation will hold more engagement sessions for members to participate. Anyone who attended a residential school is welcome to come forward. Family members are also welcome to learn more about the investigation.
Lil’wat Nation Chief Dean Nelson said this is just one of the ongoing investigations into various residential schools.
“There are a lot in the province that Lil’wat members attended. It’s just the beginning of the research and affidavits,” he said.
“The working group that was here will be back. We have contact numbers. They left information with us. If you feel that you’re up to having some information on a residential school, then hopefully people can call and set up a private meeting.”
Nelson explained the investigation team wants to hear first-hand stories from people.
“All the residential school investigation teams are on various levels of research,” he said. “They are looking for stories from people who were there. What did they see when they were let off the train to walk to these various places? People were seen last at these places and then never seen again.
“People are coming forward to say that their relatives went there and never came home. That’s what needs to be researched. We need to find out what happened to them. We have lost a few survivors over the past few years.”
The SJM investigation team is able to offer support and counselling to survivors and their families.
For more information, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or head to wlfn.ca/about-wlfn/sjm-investigation.