WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
A First Nation on Vancouver Island is set to reveal the results of its quest to uncover unmarked graves at the former Alberni Indian Residential School.
The c̓išaaʔatḥ (Tseshaht) First Nation will publicly announce the Phase 1 findings from the “ʔuuʔatumin yaqckwiimitqin” (Doing It for Our Ancestors) project next Tuesday, Feb. 21, it said in a news release Monday.
The aim of the project is to uncover the truth about what happened at the school and to honor the survivors and children who did not make it home, said Tseshaht First Nation Elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts).
“These preliminary findings provide survivors and our Nation with the knowledge and tools needed to continue our important and sacred work,” said Wahmeesh (Ken Watts), Elected Chief Councillor of Tseshaht First Nation.
“As we progress through the next phases of our research and scanning, we will continue to do our best to find answers, maintain a cultural and spiritual safe space for Survivors, and change the narrative of where this ‘school’ once stood. There cannot be reconciliation without truth.”
While the project may be painful for members who can still remember their experiences at the school and others like it, Tseshaht First Nation says the goal is to provide survivors and their families with the knowledge and tools needed to continue the healing process.
The presentation, which will be rooted in Tseshaht culture, will provide health and wellness support throughout the day for anyone who needs it.
Tseshaht First Nation has been conducting extensive research and scanning for 18 months as part of its project, launched after the discovery of 215 potential grave sites at Kamloops Residential School sent shockwaves throughout Canada and the world.
Like Kamloops, Alberni Indian Residential School was one of the many residential schools that operated in Canada in the late 19th century to the mid-20th century where Indigenous children were taken from their families and subjected to abuse, neglect, and cultural extermination at the hands of the Canadian government and Christian churches.
Many children did not survive the harsh conditions at the schools and their deaths went unrecorded. To this day, the exact number of children who lost their lives at these schools remains unknown, but it is estimated that thousands of Indigenous children did not make it home.
As of January, Tk’emlups First Nation said it is still pondering whether or not to exhume the potential unmarked graves at the former Kamloops school, according to Radio NL.
The Tseshaht First Nation announcement will take place at the Maht Mahs Gym located on its territory, with limited in-person seating, and will also be livestreamed on the Tseshaht First Nation Facebook page.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419. The B.C. KUU-US Crisis Line Society also has 24-hour services available toll-free at 1-800-588-8717 or online here. A youth line is also available at 250-723-2040, and an adult line is available at 250-723-4050.