NOTE: This article contains details about residential schools in B.C. and may be upsetting to readers. Please contact The Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1-800-721-0066 or 24-hour crisis line 1-866-925-4419 if you require emotional support or assistance.
The ‘Namgis First Nation council has made the decision to find out whether unmarked burial grounds also exist around the site of the St. Michael’s residential school, which was active in Alert Bay on Cormorant Island from 1894 to 1974. The building was torn down in 2015.
“Recently-uncovered unmarked burial grounds of First Nations children at the sites of former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan have shaken First Nations throughout Canada,” the ‘Namgis council said in a statement on July 9. “The discoveries have shown that there is still much to be brought to light from the dark years of the residential school practices of mistreatment and abuse that lasted for decades.”
The First Nation council noted it is currently seeking an expert to assist with implementing the search for possible unmarked graves.
Under the project, former students of the St. Michael’s will be interviewed to collect their information about the practices they witnessed during the period they were kept at the school while mental health and culturally appropriate supports will be provided.
Qualified contractors may be used to survey the area and propose further follow-up action depending on the findings, including excavation work.
“Membership will be briefed regularly on the development, design and implementation of the project, which is expected to take some time to complete.”
The Gazette reached out to ‘Namgis elected and hereditary chief Don Svanvik, who stated he wants more than closure from this decision, not just for his own people, but for First Nations across the whole coast who attended St. Michaels.
“For everyone who went to residential schools, regardless of what their situation is now, this has stirred up so many emotions of anger, sadness, and it’s a really tough situation, but the truth has to come out.”
On Vancouver Island, there are 202 children known to have died at five residential schools, although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates the number is actually far higher. Here are the known names from St. Michaels.
St. Michaels Residential School – Alert Bay (1894-1974)
Andrea Helen Alfred
George L. Humchitt
Jackie Archie James
Molly Irene Moon
– with files from Black Press Media