Tseshaht First Nation says it has begun the foundational work to search for unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Alberni Indian Residential School.
The First Nation says in a statement that the goal is to search the ground in spring or summer when the soil conditions are ideal for the search.
A project team, called ʔuuʔatumin yaqckwiimitqin (Doing it for our Ancestors), has been doing the work to learn what is needed to prepare the community and the site for the search. The group is also working toward providing wellness-focused support to survivors who generously and courageously share their stories and experiences.
“We are acutely aware of the large task at hand,” noted Wahmeesh (Ken Watts), Elected Chief Councillor, in a statement. “This is not work we take lightly. As we ask survivors to share their knowledge and experiences with our research and investigation team, we are fully committed to providing cultural support to them through every stage of this process.”
The statement says an announcement will be made when the ground search will begin.
As part of the research process, the team will be collecting statements from survivors of the residential school as well as their families.
The statement collecting aims to be as accessible and supportive as possible, so there will be an option to submit a statement online at the project website page (coming soon), as well as hybrid in-person/online statement gathering events in the coming months.
“The Alberni Indian Residential School was located on our traditional territory, and we feel a sacred obligation to lead this project, with culture and healing at the forefront for our people. We are guided by survivors, ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs), council and our people to give this project the honour, respect and dignity it deserves,” Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) says.
“Indigenous communities are struggling. Now, more than ever, we are losing loved ones in unprecedented numbers while dealing with news that continues to trigger trauma for our people. Two weeks ago, Williams Lake First Nation announced the discovery of 93 potential graves of lost souls who attended the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. This pain is felt by all Indigenous people and c̓ išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht) First Nation stands with this Nation and all Nations who are being called to do this important work for their communities.”
c̓išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht) First Nation is also fundraising to build a memorial to honour those who attended the Alberni Indian Residential School. To date, the fundraiser has collected $60,000 in donations.