The chief of a First Nation that’s searching for unmarked graves at a former residential school in British Columbia says they’re looking for long-term funding as they prepare for a visit today by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Chief Willie Sellars from Williams Lake First Nation says his community along with others conducting similar investigations at former government-funded, church-run institutions across Canada need financial support for their work from start to finish.
He says reconciliation starts with a healthy community, and they also need long-term funding to support the mental health and well-being of residential school survivors, their families, and Indigenous communities.
The First Nation in B.C.’s central interior announced in January that a preliminary geophysical investigation had found 93 “reflections” that could indicate children buried around the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.
He says they need Ottawa to provide complete records about the institution, along with support in urging the Roman Catholic church to do the same, as they work to identify children who never returned home.
Sellars says the federal government’s role in advancing reconciliation should also include support for economic development and key community needs, like housing.
The investigation at St. Joseph’s came after ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be more than 200 graves at a former institution in Kamloops last year.
Trudeau told media in Vancouver on Tuesday that he was looking forward to meeting with Sellars to talk about the challenges and hardships his community and others have experienced since the finding of unmarked graves.
The St. Joseph’s institution was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1891 as an industrial school where Indigenous children were required to do labour like timber splitting and farming, Sellars said in January. It remained open until 1981.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the experiences of survivors and others affected by Canada’s residential schools, says at least 4,100 children died of neglect at the institutions.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering from trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.