VANCOUVER — Three First Nations have launched an initiative to find answers about the children who once attended St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver but never made it home.
The Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam nations have announced an Indigenous-led plan to find answers and confirm the oral histories told by St. Paul’s survivors about children who disappeared.
Squamish Nation representative Khelsilem says they know current archives document a number of children died at the school, but the records are “piecemeal.”
More than 2,000 Indigenous children representing six nations attended the school between 1899 and 1959, and many were then relocated to the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the remains of more than 200 children were found in May.
Khelsilem says they have done some “very preliminary” work, but there have been significant developments at the site since the closure and it is currently the site of a Catholic high school.
A preliminary work plan proposes interviewing survivors who attended the school, gathering all records related to its history with the Catholic Church and doing a remote sensing search for bodies.
Khelsilem says there have been “bureaucratic” challenges in accessing complete records so far.
“It’s important to note that our people’s experiences with St. Paul’s Indian Residential School are well known and healing is needed to move forward. This work is being done to respect and address both known and unknown knowledge, and is a critical part of reconciliation,” Khelsilem says.
The federal government announced today that it is adding $321 million to programs to help Indigenous communities search burial sites around former residential schools, prompted by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at several former schools.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2021.