Following the tragic discovery of 215 children’s graves on the site of the former Kamloops Residential School, the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs Council (SNCC) will be investigating whether something similar exists on the properties that were once home to two Fraser Valley area residential schools.
In a news release sent out Thursday, the SNCC said research will begin centered around the Coqualeetza (Chilliwack) and St. Mary’s (Mission, Pekw’xe:yles reserve; Heritage Park) grounds respectively.
“We are aware of the tragic history that includes deaths of students at both places and our thoughts go out to their families,” wrote Chief David Jimmie, President of the SNCC. “Our staff are now conducting research on documented cemeteries and registries of students who died at these schools, as well as assessing the feasibility of using ground penetrating radar to potentially locate unmarked grave sites.
“All our work is and will continue to be guided by cultural protocol and oversight.”
Meanwhile, the SNCC is also working to honour and recognize the 215 lives that were lost in Kamloops.
“First and foremost, the Stó:lō Nation Chief’s Council send our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families of the 215 children found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site,” Chief Jimmie wrote. “Our leadership and community members are experiencing heavy hearts throughout the territory, the province and across the country.
“The reprehensible actions of the residential school system have always been deeply felt within our Indigenous communities. Now the rest of the country is beginning to understand just how severely the atrocities committed through residential schools have ingrained themselves in our people and the lasting impacts that they have left behind.”
With the COVID pandemic fading, but still with us, along with health orders meant to combat it, Chief Jimmie acknowledged a large gathering is not possible. Instead, he said individual communities will be hosting their own smaller gatherings.
“Chief Terry Horne has offered to carve two poles,” he added. “They will be located at each of the residential school sites of Coqualeetza and Pekw’xe:yles with a target date of Sep. 30 in recognition of Orange Shirt Day.”
Chief Jimmie wrote that many members of the Indigenous community continue to suffer from the impacts of the residential school system. He said the SNCC supports the First Nation Leadership Council in urging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take appropriate leadership action, “and ensure that comprehensive steps are put into place to establish an effective response and legal framework governing the protection and investigation of the unmarked mass burial site at the former Kamloops Residential School and where needed elsewhere.”