B.C. First Nation finds 93 possible burial sites at former residential school

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — A First Nation in British Columbia says a preliminary geophysical investigation has identified 93 “reflections” that could indicate the number of children buried around the site of a former residential school.

Chief Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation said Tuesday that only excavation would confirm the presence of human remains and much more work is needed to make final determinations.

He said 14 of 470 hectares around the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School have so far been examined as part of a process to discover what happened to children who did not return home.

The investigation near Williams Lake comes after the use of ground-penetrating radar led to the discovery last year of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

CAUTION: The following paragraphs contain details some readers might find distressing.

Sellars said stories recounted by survivors suggest “many” children who attended the school remained unaccounted for.

“Their bodies were cast into the river, left at the bottom of lakes, tossed like garbage into the incinerators,” he said. “It is for those children and families that we grieve the most.”

Sellars said survivors from the Williams Lake First Nation and nearly a dozen nearby First Nations will get support to deal with what has been found, which will be traumatizing for many.

Whitney Spearing, who led the project, said the 93 reflections have been categorized as having either a high or low probability of being human remains based on their location, surroundings and depth.

“It is important to note that there is still much work to be completed within the Phase 1 area of the investigation, including additional (ground-penetrating radar) and magnetometry grids, detailed analysis of records related to internment and burial at the historic cemetery, and investigation into the implications of potential incineration of human remains at St. Joseph’s Mission.”

The St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1891 and operated until 1981.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

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