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Tŝilhqot'in seek inclusion in St. Joseph's Mission investigation

The Tsilhqot'in National Government is asking for a direct role in the St. Joseph's Mission investigation after Williams Lake First Nation signed an MOU with the province of B.C. and RCMP.
The site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School near Williams Lake.

The Tŝilhqot'in National Government (TNG) wants a direct role for its leadership and people in any investigations at the former St. Joseph's Mission Residential School site near Williams Lake. 

"So many of our children never came home from there and so many were buried there," TNG tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse told the Tribune Monday, July 8. 

The request comes after the provincial government signed a memorandum of understanding with Williams Lake First Nation and the RCMP to guide future investigative work at the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School site, announced in a news release June 3, 2024. 

Alphonse said the TNG learned about the MOU through the media and having just one First Nation have its say for all the children who went there is "absolutely wrong" and "very disrespectful." 

Each First Nation has different customs and spiritual beliefs that have to be followed, he explained.  

"They are going to be wading through a number of legal cases if they don't do the honourable thing which is to include all First Nations who went there," Alphonse said. 

Alphonse said they have written letters and met with the WLFN Chief and Council, but received no response.

"To resolve any conflict there has to be communication," he said.  

In the June 3 news release, Kukwpi7 Willie Sellars of Williams Lake First Nation noted the MOU ensures WLFN will continue to lead the process, provides the clarity WLFN needs in relation to future investigative activities and ensures the careful, culturally sensitive and respectful treatment of any human remains that might be recovered.

At present, WLFN has no plans to excavate, noted the release. 

"This MOU will ensure that the proper tools and processes are in place, better equipping the investigation team to make informed decisions about whether or not to proceed with excavations."

On July 4, 2024 the TNG issued a news release about its call for inclusion in St. Joseph's Mission actions and how the call cannot be ignored. 

"We will do whatever we must to protect our kids, including legal action, if the status quo in the current MOU continues. Nothing will happen without Tsilhqot'in consent on this matter," stated Alphonse in the news release. 

Responding, B.C.’s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation issued a statement Monday, July 8, noting the MOU commits the parties to building a shared understanding of respective roles and take a collaborative approach to all aspects of the investigative work that WLFN has underway.

"We acknowledge that the residential school system has left a harmful legacy that is felt by all families and communities.  As was documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, students were sent to schools far away from their families and communities.  We know that children from more than 40 communities were taken to St. Joseph’s Mission during its operation between 1891 and 1981."

The ministry said it is taking guidance from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in having the communities most affected lead the work.

The ministry also noted the MOU includes a commitment by WLFN to continue to update and engage with the survivors and their families as well as the communities whose members attended St. Joseph’s Mission, including the Stl’atl’imx, Secwépemc, Dakelh, and Tŝilhqot’in Nations, "to ensure that their views and perspectives will continue to inform their investigation.”




Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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