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Island First Nation releases preliminary findings of residential school site

This story may contain information that is difficult for many. A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to former residential school students who can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. 

A Vancouver Island First Nation says ground penetrating radar has found evidence suggesting 17 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school.

Members of the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni released the findings of Alberni Indian Residential School on Tuesday, following searches with ground-penetrating radar. Brian Whiting of GeoScan, who did the ground-penetrating radar, says they have scanned around 12 of 100 hectares on the site with multiple methods.

Investigations into historical documents from the United Church along with survivor interviews and other documents revealed 67 students did not make it home, according to the First Nation.

They add many of the students died because of poor health conditions and conditions at the school.

Lead researcher Sheri Meding adds survivors did not want a sanitized truth to be told about residential school history.

“Survivors have been continually sharing their truth and not having it received,” said Meding. “We have to get to that place where we can open our minds and hearts and receive this truth so that we can really understand our shared past.”

Elected chief councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) says that while the numbers are difficult, they need to be said.

“We need to remind the world that those were just children, and for Canadians to sit back and think about if that happened today,” said Wahmeesh. “There should never be cemeteries at schools and yet we’ve had to live with these things in our own back yards for many years.”

Wahmeesh says heading forward they are calling on the Canadian Government to provide resources to share records in an appropriate way.

The Alberni Indian Residential School opened in the late 1800s and ran until 1973. The investigation has been underway for the last 18 months.

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