Statement on the Preliminary Findings of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Investigation

The Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre stands in solidarity with and support of the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN), and all impacted Indigenous communities and families, as the Nation continues to lead the ongoing investigation into missing former students of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School.

The WLFN has completed the first phase of its investigation into missing children and potential unmarked burials on the site of the former St. Joseph’s school and the Onward Ranch. Findings were announced today by Kúkpi7 (Chief) Willie Sellars and WLFN councillors. The technical investigation, which consisted of geophysical research including ground penetrating radar and magnetometry, identified 93 unmarked burials within the 14-hectare preliminary survey site. This phase-one investigation site represents a small portion of the entire 480-hectare area. In addition to the technical portion of the investigation, the WLFN is conducting extensive archival research and interviews with former students. These testimonials and records tell an exceedingly tragic story of the abuse and neglect suffered by the children that attended the St. Joseph’s Mission school.

“This is yet another heartbreaking moment for the survivors of residential schools and their families. We send our deepest condolences to Chief Sellars and his community, to the other communities and families whose children attended St. Joseph’s Mission School, and to all Indigenous peoples across Canada as they are once again faced with evidence of the atrocities of the residential school system, even as they try to piece together what happened to their relatives,” says Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Academic Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. “We support the Williams Lake First Nation’s assertion that the land should be returned to them, and that a complete set of records must be released in order that they can continue with a comprehensive investigation. This truth needs to be told fully for healing to take place. The truth of survivor testimony must be heard.”

Next steps for the WLFN will be to continue with the investigation, expanding on the physical search area, conducting additional survivor interviews, and continuing to request records and perform research and analysis. The Nation’s leadership’s greatest concern is for the wellbeing and safety of community members, and Chief Sellars encourages anyone needing support to reach out.

Former residential school students seeking wellness support can call the national, toll-free 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419. Additional wellness supports and resources can be found here.

More information:

A recording of the media conference can be found on the Williams Lake First Nation’s Facebook page.

Additional information about the St. Joseph’s Investigation, including survivor and media contacts, can be found on this Williams Lake First Nation webpage.

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