Investigation being launched at site of former residential school, B.C. First Nations announce
Three First Nations have launched an investigation into what happened to the students of a former residential school in North Vancouver.
The announcement was made by the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations at the site of St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver, which operated from 1899 to 1958 and was run by the Catholic Church. That school was closed due to fire safety concerns and was eventually replaced by St. Paul's Indian Day School.
The site is now used as a staff parking lot for St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School.
"Our intention here today is to begin a healing process for our survivors and for our people," Khelsilem, spokesperson for Squamish Nation said during the announcement.
"The three nations will be working together with the Catholic Archdiocese … to gather all information to honour and find those children who might not have gone home but attended St. Paul's Indian Residential School."
The First Nations said records show there are at least 12 unidentified children who died while attending the school between 1904 and 1913.
Khelsilem said many of the records nations have obtained to date are “piecemeal.”
A representative for the Archdiocese of Vancouver pledged “full cooperation” to make all records available and accessible, as well as mental health supports “in partnership with each nation.”
“We acknowledge and honour the truths of your experiences, and we apologize with deep humility for the harms that resulted from the role the church played, at this and all residential schools,” James Borkowski, the Archibishop’s delegate for operations said.
Chief Jen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, whose father Stanley attended St. Paul’s in the 1950s, called the announcement the “start of our healing journey.”
“I’m grateful he survived,” Thomas said. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.”
And Chief Wayne Sparrow of the Musqueam Nation added: “I want to say on behalf of my community that we’re going to work with each and every one of you to get to the truth.”
In recent months, First Nations across Canada announced the discoveries of what are believed to be the remains of many other children suspected of dying at residential schools, some using ground-penetrating radar to analyze the area around the former school sites.
Data from ground-penetrating radar showed anomalies in the ground that are, based on other evidence including bones and stories from survivors, believed to be graves holding the bodies of children who never made it back home.
In May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc announced it identified the graves of 215 children near the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The announcement had a significant impact across Canada and some nations announced soon after that they would be following suit.
At the announcement, Khelsilem said the investigation will involve several steps. First, formal interviews will be conducted with survivors who attended the school and are willing to share their stories.
Khelsilem said their "accounts may assist in helping to narrow down or expand the investigation." As well, all records related to the school will be gathered from all levels of government, the Catholic Church and any other religious groups affiliated with the former school.
"After those two pieces have helped inform, the third step of the investigation is remote-sensing searched in defined areas of interest, which may include ground-penetrating radar studies or other suitable methods," Khelsilem said.
He acknowledged there are many unknowns about the path forward, including the timeline.
Byron Joseph, an elder with the Squamish Nation, offered this thought to the communities impacted as part of his opening prayer: “Keep your mind strong, keep your heart strong, helping one another, especially at this time.”
For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.