17 potential unmarked graves have been scanned at the former Vancouver Island boarding school, First Nation says

The Alberni Indian Residential School operated from 1900 to 1973.  (April Thompson - photo credit)

The Alberni Indian Residential School operated from 1900 to 1973. (April Thompson – photo credit)

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.

UPDATE – Feb 21, 2023 3pm PT: A First Nation on Vancouver Island has released the preliminary results of a scan of the former site of the Alberni Indian Residential School that has allegedly revealed 17 potential unmarked graves.

The Tseshaht First Nation says ground-penetrating radar has been used to probe sites they suspect are the graves of children who have not returned home, but the only way to know for sure is if to dig up and exhume the areas.

“We will continue to do our best to find an answer for survivors and those who did not make it home,” Chief Councilor-elect Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) said in a statement.

According to The Nation, only 10 percent of the approximately 300 hectares of land that will be scanned has been surveyed so far.

There’s more to come.

Original story below:

A Vancouver Island First Nation on Tuesday will release the results of its preliminary investigation into possible unmarked graves on the site of a former boarding school near Port Alberni, BC.

The Tseshaht First Nation says ground-penetrating radar has been used for the past 18 months to survey the area around the former Alberni Indian Residential School compound.

According to the Tseshaht First Nation, children from at least 100 First Nations across BC were required to attend school between 1900 and 1973.

“These preliminary findings provide survivors and our nation with the knowledge and tools they need to continue our important and sacred work,” Wahmeesh, chief councilor-elect of Tseshaht, whose English name is Ken Watts, said in a statement.

“We will never know the exact number of children who did not make it home, but we have a duty as a nation and caregiver community to uncover the truth and honor survivors and children who did not make it home.”

Probes at other former boarding schools across BC and Canada have found hundreds of potential burial sites.

The results of the second phase of a survey of possible graves at the former St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake were released last month and revealed an additional 66 “reflections,” adding to the previously discovered 93 potential graves.

The Tseshaht First Nation announcement will be made around 1pm PST.

Claire Palmer/CBC

Claire Palmer/CBC

The investigations are critical, says the survivor

Randy Fred, who survived nine years from the age of five at Alberni Indian Residential School, says it is crucial that investigations are conducted in unmarked graves.

“The process that is leading to where we are today really needs to continue because people want a closure,” he told CBC News on Monday.

In 1988, Fred shared his story publicly on Celia Haig-Brown’s resistance and renewalone of the first texts detailing the experiences of boarders.

He was also among the survivors who told their stories to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1995 as part of the Blackwater vs. Plint case, in which Alberni Indian Residential School dormitory director Arthur Henry Plint was convicted and sentenced twice to 11 years in prison decades of sexual abuse he committed on children at school.

Fred, now in his 70s, continues to tell his story to ensure the dorm atrocities are not forgotten.

“We lost so much in this school. We’ve been robbed of our family, we’ve been robbed of our love,” he said.

Support is available to anyone affected by their experiences at boarding schools or by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been established to support former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counseling and crisis support are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or via online chat.


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