Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni will release the initial results of its scan for unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school next week.
Last year, Tseshaht First Nation formed a project team called ʔuuʔatumin yaqckwiimitqin (Doing it for our Ancestors) to do research and prepare the community and the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) for ground-penetrating radar scanning. Scanning took place in July of 2022.
The Phase 1 findings from this research will be announced publicly on Feb. 21, 2023 at 1 p.m. The announcement will be held at the Maht Mahs Gym located at 5000 Mission Road in Port Alberni with limited seating. It will also be livestreamed publicly on the Tseshaht First Nation Facebook Page.
“We know this news can be difficult for all residential school survivors, their loved ones, communities and Canadians,” said Tseshaht elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) in a press release. “However, this work is essential as we embark on this journey of truth. These preliminary findings provide survivors and our Nation with the knowledge and tools needed to continue our important and sacred work. We will never know the exact number of children who did not make it home, however we are committed as a Nation and caretaker community to uncover the truth and honour survivors and children who did not make it home.”
As Tseshaht progresses through the next phases of research, Watts says the nation will do its best to maintain a cultural and spiritual safe space for survivors. The ʔuuʔatumin yaqckwiimitqin project includes residential school survivors, ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs), Tseshaht council and others.
“We never consented for it to be placed on our territory, but we are doing our part to educate the world about what happened at AIRS,” Watts said. “There cannot be reconciliation without truth.”
The AIRS project team will host a presentation to release the results of the extensive research and scanning that has been conducted over the last 18 months. Health and wellness supports will be on-site and available throughout the day.
Anyone needing support may call the Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free at 1-800-721-0066 or 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419.