Snuneymuxw First Nation to search for unmarked graves at former Nanaimo ‘Indian Hospital’ site

Snuneymuxw First Nation to search for unmarked graves at former Nanaimo 'Indian Hospital' site
Nanaimo Archives

WARNING: This story contains graphic content related to violence and abuse, and may be disturbing to some readers.

A First Nation on Vancouver Island will receive thousands of dollars to search for unmarked graves at a former hospital site.

Organizers of a GoFundMe called Find Our Lost Children announced Tuesday that the Snuneymuxw Nation will receive $77,000 from their campaign to search for unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Nanaimo Indian Hospital. The money will be transferred to the Snuneymuxw First Nation during a ceremony on Sept. 15 in Nanaimo.

“We are happy we are assisting Snuneymuxw with these funds to find those lost from our Indian Hospital experience,” Tom LaFortune, who is one of the fund’s organizers, said in a press release.

“Our people carry the enormous emotional, physical and spiritual injury and harm of residential schools and Indian hospitals. Some of our people did not survive and were left behind in unmarked graves in our territory,” said Chief Michael Wyse of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

READ MORE: A brief history of Vancouver Island’s five residential schools, and the children who died there

The Nanaimo Indian Hospital was one of 29 Indian hospitals nationwide that were run by the federal government from 1946 until 1967. The Nanaimo facility was located on land near Vancouver Island University and had 210 beds. Former patients have described the Nanaimo Indian Hospital, as rife with unfathomable mental and physical abuse.

“Every day I got strapped down and got these electrodes into my head and for a good year, I had the shock treatment,” Melven Jones, who spent two years at the hospital when he was six years old, told CHEK News earlier this year.

The Nanaimo Indian Hospital is also named in a class-action lawsuit against Health Canada, which alleges that patients at Indian hospitals throughout Canada were beaten repeatedly, needlessly tied to their beds for prolonged periods of time, forced to eat their own vomit, sexually abused, and often arrested if they attempted to leave the facility without permission.

“Seeing these girls getting raped, having children, it’s very very hard,” recalled an emotional Jones back in June.

RELATED: Island survivors share experiences at Indian hospital, day schools

Find Our Lost Children fundraiser campaign was established by LaFortune, Michele Mundy, and Steve Sxwithul’txw, a residential school survivor, following the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the Kamloops Residential School earlier this year. Money raised is used to help First Nations purchase or rent ground-penetrating radar equipment in order to search for additional remains at various former residential school and Indian hospital locations. The campaign has raised nearly $160,000 and distributed $75,000 to the Ahousaht First Nation in July.

Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can call the 24/7 National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866 925-4419.

RELATED: Fundraiser launched to scan other residential school sites



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