Discovery of 93 potential graves by B.C. First Nation at former residential school

Indian Residential School Unmarked Graves. Image credit: Wikipedia

#BCFirstNation; #PotentialGraves; # StJosephMissionResidentialSchool

Williams Lake (BC)/CMEDIA: A survey of a small segment of the land surrounding a former B.C. residential school has identified 93 sites of “potential human burials,” according to representatives of a nearby First Nation.

 The chief and council of Williams Lake First Nation yesterday revealed preliminary findings of their investigation into St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School and nearby Onward Ranch, based on a probe of 14 out of 470 hectares that have been identified as areas of interest.

The findings from the school are considered preliminary, and more information is expected as the ongoing investigation continues.

Situated in B.C.’s central interior, the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, which operated near Williams Lake between 1891 and 1981 has since been largely demolished.

Whitney Spearing, who led the investigation team, said the 93 sites were identified using ground-penetrating radar, along with aerial and terrestrial LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors.

She said some may be connected to a known historical cemetery, but 50 appear to have no association with it. Spearing added that while the 93 sites suggest human burials, the only way to confirm that would be through excavation

In an emotional press conference on Jan 25, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars reportedly said that reports of neglect and abuse at the St. Joseph’s Mission, and children dying or disappearing from the facility were not given any importance earlier.

“This journey has led our investigation team into the darkest recesses of human behavior,” Sellars was reported to say, “Our team has recorded not only stories regarding the murder and disappearance of children and infants, but they have also listened to countless stories of systematic torture, starvation, rape, and sexual assault of children at St. Joseph’s Mission.”

Unheeded complaints about conditions at the school, were uncovered by the investigation, said Sellars.

The investigation also revealed the proof of children’s bodies being disposed of in lakes, rivers, and the school’s incinerator, including priests’​ unwanted babies.

The investigation is being led by archaeologist Whitney Spearing. At the press conference, Spearing said 50 of the 93 potential graves were found outside the school’s cemetery.

“All of them display varying characteristics indicative of potential human burials,” Spearing explained. “It must be emphasized that no geophysical investigation can provide certainty into the presence of human remains. Excavation is the only technique that will provide answers as to whether human remains are present.”

The investigation of Williams Lake follows the horrifying May 2021 discovery of 200 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Since then, similar searches have resulted in the shocking discoveries of hundreds more across Canada.

Approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were separated from their families and forced to attend boarding schools from the late 1800s, with the aim of replacing Indigenous languages and culture with English and Christian beliefs. Canada’s last residential school closed in 1996.

“The abuses suffered at St. Joseph’s Mission and other institutions are not forgotten footnotes of the past,” Sellars said at the press conference. “The horrors that occurred inside walls of St. Joseph’s Mission are still very real for those who lived them.”