As the probe of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School site proceeds, the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) announced it has established an email address for community and non-community members who wish to share relevant information or make inquiries.
“It’s not something we can sit back and wait on,” said Chief Willie Sellars in a new release, noting WLFN council met with respected elders immediately after the announcement by Tkemlups te Secwepemc that it was investigating unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site.
“Our knowledge keepers communicated a strong desire to advance the analysis of St. Joseph’s, emphasizing the necessity of careful protocol and ceremony,” said Sellars, adding as caretakers of the traditional territory on which St. Joseph’s Mission lies, WLFN will lead the search alongside a comprehensive team of community elders, cultural advisors, archaeological professionals, key WLFN technical staff and selected professional partners.
“We have taken the time and expended the energy to craft a carefully developed plan and now it’s time to execute that plan,” Sellars said. “It’s time for our community and those around the country and beyond, to know the truth of St. Joseph’s Mission.”
St. Joseph’s Mission was established in 1867 by the Catholic Oblate Order just south of the current WLFN community of Sugar Cane.
In 1886, St. Joseph’s became an Indian Residential School and remained one until it was closed in 1981.
Whitney Spearing, St. Joseph’s Mission project manager, said they have sent in a proposal to the provincial and federal governments to fund the investigation project and received preliminary acknowledgement of the funding request.
Spearing said a specialist will be hired to do the ground penetrating radar (GPR) investigation while Sugar Cane Archaeology will be doing all the rest of the work.
“GPR shoots a radar into the ground surface and collects a signal and then that creates an image. From the image you can actually see what’s called an anomaly and each anomaly is marked as an area that needs to be explored more,” she explained.
It is not new technology, she added.
“It has been around for decades but there has never been any drive to do this work. There’s never been any real acceptance that this needs to be done.”
The preliminary investigation will inspect 150,000 square metres which includes an existing graveyard. The total amount of area that needs to be searched is 450 hectares in size.
Investigation into the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous children at St. Joseph’s Mission will be fully documented, Spearing said noting WLFN is in discussion with a documentary film producer to ensure there is a filmed record of the investigation.
WLFN anticipates it will be able to release further details about the possible filming in the near future.
The email – firstname.lastname@example.org – went live on Monday, July 19, 2021 and will be the sole point of contact for anyone wanting to share or seek information relevant to the investigation.
Archival research and a review of oral histories are already underway and a comprehensive ground analysis of the land surrounding the site is expected to begin in August.