Following the findings of unmarked graves in former Residential School cemeteries at Tk'emlúps (Kamloops), Penelakut Island (Kuper Island), and elsewhere across Canada, Stó:lō Nation Chiefs’ Council (SNCC), under the leadership of Chief David Jimmie, President of the SNCC, launched a broad-based and inclusive initiative to investigate potential unmarked graves and missing children related to three of the former Residential School sites within S’ólh Téméxw. This initiative includes the former St. Mary’s, Coqualeetza, and All Hallows institutions in Mission, Chilliwack, and Yale, in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. A political Steering Committee with representatives from the SNCC, Stó:lō Tribal Council and Independent First Nations oversees this work. The Steering Committee includes Chiefs Alice McKay, Alice Thompson, Robert Gladstone, Lara Mussell, David Jimmie, Councilors Chris Silver, Darcy Paul, and Grand Chief Clarence Pennier. The Stó:lō House of Respect Care Taking Committee, who guide repatriation efforts, provide cultural guidance to these efforts. The initiative is being operationalized through the Stó:lō Service Agency Board of Directors. This work is connected to an initiative that is being led by Grand Chief Pennier and the Stó:lō Tribal Council which focuses on residential school survivors and experiences within the Coast Salish communities.
After careful consideration and guidance from our House of Respect Care Taking Committee-members and Elizabeth Phillips’s sharing of her Halq’eméylem language knowledge, we came up with the root name for this work: Xyólhmet ye Syéwiqwélh (Taking Care of Our Children)
The SNCC directed the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre (SRRMC) to develop plans and secure federal and provincial funding supporting this work. The SRRMC team is led by Dr. David Schaepe (Director & Senior Archaeologist) with staff-members Amber Kostuchenko (Project Manager), Naxaxalhts'i also known as Dr. Albert “Sonny” McHalsie (Cultural Advisor/Historian), Cara Brendzy (Heritage Stewardship and Archaeology, Manager / Advisor), Lisa Dojack (Archaeologist/Ground Penetrating Radar Advisor), Jill Levine (Coordinator/Researcher), Remy Benoit (Coordinator/Researcher), Kathleen Bertrand (Coordinator/Researcher), with the support Colin Green (GIS Manager) and other SRRMC staff in our Archives and Administration Units. Archival research will be undertaken with the guidance and participation of Dr. Keith Carlson (Historian and Archives Specialist / UFV Peace and Reconciliation Centre). Additional consultants and advisors specializing in ground penetrating radar (GPR) from Canadian Archaeological Association, University of British Columbia, Washington State University and University of Alberta are also supporting the work.
Remote sensing and imaging technologies including drone-based LiDAR surface mapping and photogrammetry, in addition to ground penetrating radar are being used to search for unmarked graves.
Between 2021 and 2024, we will carry out archival, oral historical and on-site remote sensing work in search of identifiable unmarked graves. We are also working with local Stó:lō First Nations including Sqwá (Chief Lara Mussell), Sq’ewqéyl (Chief Mark Point) and Ch’íyáqtel (Chief Derek Epp) regarding unmarked burials known to have been relocated to each of their cemeteries from the Coqualeetza Grounds. These communities are participating directly, leading this work by setting out cultural protocols and needs and guiding our investigations.
Other major goals of our work are to identify Stó:lō children who were sent to Residential Schools – anywhere – and never returned home; as well as to support the commemoration and memorialization of Residential School Survivors and lost children within the Stó:lō communities and more broadly.
SRRMC staff will gather information from community members, or any other individuals, who have knowledge they would like to share about children who were sent to any Residential School and never returned home, or about cemeteries and burials associated with the three former Residential Schools. The project team can be contacted through: TakingCareOfOurChildren@stolonation.bc.ca.
Work started in August of 2021, and we currently are following a three-year plan. Archival research, interviews to gather information from our community members, and the physical survey of potential burial sites by archaeologists is being organized into phases, and undertaken by the staff of the SRRMC with the assistance of technical experts. All of this work is being guided by Elders and cultural knowledge keepers to make sure that the work is done in a good way and respects Stó:lō culture and people. This important and difficult work will take time and needs to be carried out with great care to individuals’ and communities’ well-being, cultural protocol, confidentiality, and certainty of findings.
The SRRMC will be providing regular updates to the SNCC leadership, Steering Committee, participating First Nations, and the House of Respect Care Taking Committee. Public communication of outcomes, including commemorative installations such as recently installed at St. Mary’s and Coqualeetza Grounds, will be addressed by the SNCC and participating First Nations.
Memorial house posts carvings by Yeqwyeqwí:ws First Nation Siyémches (Chief Terry Horne) at the site of the former St. Mary’s Residential School (now the Pekw'Xe:yles reserve lands) in Mission (left) and on the former Coqualeetza Residential School grounds in Chilliwack (right).
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress related to the legacy of Residential Schools.
For inquiries and questions, please contact our project team: email@example.com