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Williams Lake First Nation purchases residential school site

CANADA, September 5 - Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) has purchased, with funding from the Province of British Columbia, the private property on which the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School operated between 1891 and 1981.

WLFN ownership ensures that the site is permanently protected for historical and investigative purposes.

The return of these sacred lands to the control and stewardship of Indigenous people is an important step to commemorate the history and legacy of the residential school system in British Columbia. The purchase of this property ensures that the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission will be recognized as a place of historical, cultural and spiritual importance to those communities whose children were taken to this institution throughout its operation.

“Residential school survivors and their families have told us that the sites of former schools are of great significance and must be protected,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “The return of these lands will support the process of truth telling, healing and remembrance as it will ensure future generations know the true history of this site and its impact on the generations of children who were forced to come here.”

This purchase provides the immediate protection of the property from any future development while ensuring that former students, their families and their communities can visit the site for cultural, spiritual, personal or other commemorative purposes. As the owner of this property, Williams Lake First Nation can work with former students, families and communities on a long-term vision and plan to protect and commemorate the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission. While planning is still in the early stages, this may include opportunities to reimagine the site as a place for reflection, remembrance, truth telling and public education.

“It has long been the goal of WLFN’s current and previous Councils to see this property preserved and protected,” said Kukpi7 Willie Sellars, Williams Lake First Nation​. “WLFN can now ensure the integrity of the investigation on this portion of the site, and we can start to think longer term about how to honour and acknowledge the children that disappeared from St. Joseph’s Mission and the generations of children that were torn from their families and forced to attend there. We’re grateful for the Province’s support and look forward to continued collaboration with the Province, Canada and other impacted First Nation communities.”

Since 2021, Williams Lake First Nation has taken a leading role to investigate the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous children who were taken to St. Joseph’s Mission throughout its history. This has included the use of archival research, survivor testimonies, ground-penetrating radar and other technologies to locate undocumented and unmarked burials associated with St. Joseph’s Mission. This purchase will also allow a more thorough search of the property and will ensure that all relevant information pertaining to the investigation is collected and preserved. The Province has offered its full support for the investigation and is committed to a collaborative, inclusive, community-led and survivor-driven process to locate and protect any unmarked and undocumented burials associated with St. Joseph’s Mission.

Quick Facts:

  • St. Joseph’s Mission operated as an Indian Residential School between 1891 and 1981 and was administered by the Roman Catholic Church through much of its history under the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Sisters of the Instruction of the Child Jesus.
  • Indigenous children from more than 40 communities were taken to St. Joseph’s Mission, including children from Tŝilhqot’in, Secwépemc, Dakelh, and Stl'atl'imx First Nations.
  • Since September 2021, Williams Lake First Nation has led the investigation on lands historically associated with St. Joseph’s Mission and has released its preliminary findings of 159 reflections that indicate the presence of burials.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, there were three high-profile criminal convictions for physical and sexual assault that took place at St. Joseph’s Mission.

Available support services:

A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students and others affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line at 1 866 925-4419.

The KUU-US Crisis Line Society:

  • Crisis services for Indigenous Peoples in B.C. are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free throughout the Province, at 1 800 588-8717.
  • Alternatively, individuals can call direct into the Adult/Elders Line at 250 723-4050 or the Children/Youth Line at 250 723-2040.
  • More information: https://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/

Métis Crisis Line:

  • A service provided by Métis Nation British Columbia.
  • Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, toll-free across the province at 1 833 638-4722.

For WLFN-specific resources, visit: https://www.wlfn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/WLFN-Emergency-Emotional-Spiritual-Health-Resources-Jan.-2023.pdf