Williams Lake First Nation will release more results from the second phase of its St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School investigation on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
St. Joseph’s Mission served as a residential school between 1886 and 1981 and was operated by the Catholic Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
On the morning of Jan. 25 there will be a meeting with chiefs of communities affected by St. Joseph’s mission for them to ask questions of the investigation team, followed by a media conference in the afternoon beginning at 1 p.m.
Preliminary findings released a year ago by WLFN revealed 93 potential graves that required further analysis.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars said he will not know the results beforehand.
“Once we get the information we are basically turning around and sharing it,” he told Black Press Media. “We don’t know what to expect, but judging by the interviews to date and the pattern of these investigations there are going to be anomalies that are found, but again we can’t assume anything right now.”
The investigation of the St. Joseph’s Mission is not solely about WLFN, he added.
“When we look at the amount of triggers that continue to happen in this country and announcements that are going to continue with investigations not only in our territory but right across Canada there is major concern.”
It is the responsibility of leaders to make sure they are acting in the best interest of their people and making sure there are health supports in place if needed, he added.
“A big priority for WLFN is making sure we have those cultural supports in place for when people are struggling they can reach out. That really is the biggest concern for us.”
The announcement Thursday, Jan. 12, from Star Blanket Cree Nation about 2,000 anomalies at the former Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan is an example he said.
“Although it is not in our territory, we are impacted by that announcement. That goes for every single Indigenous person in this country.”
Sellars said WLFN has seen an overwhelming amount of requests for health and wellness supports, but there are other individuals who do not want to talk about residential school experiences or are not ready.
“We need to make sure to continue to provide supports for people when they are ready to step forward, but we can’t force healing and reconciliation onto individuals. They have to come when they are ready and that is definitely something every single leader in this country is talking about.”
The investigation team continues to conduct interviews with elders and survivors, read through historical data and identifying sites to glean a better idea of what the site looked like and where areas of interest are located.
“We start to put into perspective the significance of the site, the amount of trauma that happened at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School,” Sellars said. “You look at this blank slate of what residential schools were and the stories we continue to hear, but as we continue to dive into the research we get more clarity of what exactly happened, clarifying and bringing that truth to light so we can help educate this region and this country.”
Having access to historic records and information was a challenge for Indigenous governments in the past, but now with support of the provincial and federal governments that is changing.
Sellars said leadership across the country is seeing more willigness to share records to aid investigative work.
“That is very encouraging. The reconciliation discussion doesn’t happen without everybody coming together. We are really seeing it on a number of different fronts.”
Locally he applauded Williams Lake Mayor Surinderpal Rathor and city council for stepping forward to create dialogue and offer support.
Communities must work together to support each other, uplift each other, and ultimately move forward in a positive direction, he added.
“We will continue to pursue the truth and we will continue to seek justice for those children and their families.”
It is anticipated the afternoon session will begin at 1 p.m. and will be held at WLFN administration building at Quigli Drive.
A sacred fire will take place at the Elizabeth Grouse gymnasium at Sugar Cane from the afternoon of Jan. 25 through to the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, ending with a feast, traditional dancing and a demonstration of Lahal. Health and wellness supports will be available on site for the duration.