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First Nation in B.C. says 158 children died at three residential school sites, hospital

Warning: This story discusses disturbing subject matter that may be upsetting and triggering to some readers. Discretion is advised.

An investigation into unmarked graves and missing children by the Sto:lo Nation in British Columbia has revealed at least 158 ​​deaths, most of them at an Indigenous hospital.

The country’s researchers say archival documents from Mission, Sardis and Yale boarding schools, as well as Coqualeetza Hospital, suggest 96 children died at the hospital from illnesses including tuberculosis.

Others died as a result of accidents and some causes of death are unknown.

The investigation lasted 18 months, but officials said Thursday it was only the beginning. The nation received about half of a possible 70,000 documents, with access hampered by Ottawa and religious institutions involved in schools.

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“This heaviness cannot be summed up in words,” Sxwoyehálá Chief David Jimmie, chair of the Sto:lo Nation Chiefs Council, said at a news conference.

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The national research focuses on the All Hallows School at Yale, which operated between 1890 and 1917, and the Coqualeetza Industrial Institute at Sardis, about five kilometers south of Chilliwack, which operated from 1886 to 1894.

The study also reveals more information about St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, which lead researcher David Schaepe described as a place of punishment, starvation, abuse, intentional detention and child labor.

“What we learned from speaking with just a handful of survivors is extremely traumatic and sad,” Shaepe said.

“We have heard of cases of children being killed, secret burials of deceased children and forced burials of children by other children. »

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St. Mary’s opened in 1863. The assimilation institution was moved in 1882 and a new facility was built in 1933.

It closed in 1984, making it the last operating residential school in British Columbia. In 2004, a former school employee was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault in connection with his time at the school and sentenced to three years in prison.

“I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through, the atrocities that took place and the impacts that we still feel generations later today,” Jimmie said, referring to those forced to to attend such a painful institution.

“We feel a fraction of what they felt.”

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Project director and researcher Amber Kostuchenko said documents on the four Fraser Valley facilities came from dozens of archives located in 47 different physical locations across the country.

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The Sto:lo Nation’s findings are the latest of many investigations into residential schools that have taken place since May 2021, when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced that the possible remains of more than 200 children had been found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The news sent shockwaves of grief and anger across Canada and forced citizens to reckon with the insidious nature of the country’s colonial past.

Other First Nations searching their own former residential school sites with ground-penetrating radar have now revealed more than 2,000 possible burial sites from coast to coast.

“This is another opportunity to educate and ensure that the general public – not only in our province, in our country – but around the world, understands what happened here in Canada, understands the work that still needs to be done so we can support these (survivors),” Jimmie said.

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Between the 1800s and the mid-1990s, Canada’s residential school system aimed to “eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural and spiritual development” of Indigenous children, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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State and church-run institutions removed more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and imprisoned them in schools where many were physically, sexually and spiritually abused. Some were deprived of food as part of scientific experiments on the effects of malnutrition. Many fell ill with smallpox, measles, influenza, tuberculosis and other unknown diseases due to lack of proper care.

Thousands of people died and many parents were never informed of what happened to their children. The assimilation system created intergenerational trauma that had a profound and lasting impact on survivors, their children, their relationships, and their communities.

To date, governments have failed in many ways to meaningfully repair or compensate for what Pope Francis has called a genocide.

— With files from Janet Brown, Elizabeth McSheffrey and The Canadian Press

The Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-800-721-0066) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their experience at Indian Residential Schools.

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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