The Tseshaht First Nation, after 18 months of planning and operations, has announced the detection of 17 suspected unmarked graves
at the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School. This announcement was made in an emotional event that combined science and ceremony.
The Tseshaht First Nation took the lead in an 18-month effort to find potential graves of schoolchildren at the former Alberni Indian Residential School. Interviews with survivors, historical records, and other documents show 67 students died at the school.
The search for potential graves was conducted by B.C. land surveyor GeoScan, using ground-penetrating radar since July of the previous year. Brian Whiting, a geophysics division manager with GeoScan, stated that the 17 suspected graves represent the minimum number believed to be on 12 of 100 hectares that were searched.
Sheri Meding, the lead researcher who worked with historical records and survivors’ statements, said many of the 67 children had died from medical conditions. There were recurring themes when interviewing survivors of the school, including forced abortions, multiple burial locations without markers, students finding skulls and human remains around the grounds, and witnessing small coffins being taken out of the building at night.
Tseshaht Elected Chief Coun. Wahmeesh, whose English name is Ken Watt, emphasized the importance of embarking on this journey of truth despite the process being difficult for survivors. He called for any legal investigations to be done by an independent body with Tseshaht consent, and not by the RCMP, because of the force’s role in residential schools and removing children from their homes. He also called on Canada to conduct a review to determine the RCMP’s role in the Alberni school.
This discovery at the Alberni Residential School is part of a larger effort across Canada to find unmarked graves of children who died while being forced to attend residential schools. The topic of residential schools’ unmarked graves exploded into public discourse in May 2021, when the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced that more than 200 suspected unmarked graves had been identified on the grounds of a former school in Kamloops.
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