Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.
Researchers have combed through the available documents associated with the Alberni Indian Residential School and concluded 67 students died there in the years the school operated, 1892 to 1973. The students, who came to the Vancouver Island school, arrived there from at least 70 First Nations across British Columbia and they likely died of illness while there, the researchers said at a news conference Tuesday.
Justine Hunter reports that geological scans have pointed to only 17 unmarked graves on the property, underscoring the tragedy and the difficulty of trying to account for children who never made it home from residential schools across the country.
Tseshaht Elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh told a news conference Tuesday only 12 per cent of the 100-hectare area of interest has been searched so far using a combination of ground-penetrating radar and other scanning technology and work will continue.
“We barely skimmed the surface,” he said. The First Nation is trying to reach family members of the 67 students, whose names have not been released.
Sheri Meding, the lead researcher, said the researchers based their findings on survivor accounts and from combing through what records they could find. But she said much of the documentation is incomplete or misleading and the researchers did not have access to records from the province’s three Indian hospitals, where some students were sent and didn’t return.
“A total number will never be known,” Ms. Meding said.
Justine notes the Tseshaht commissioned GeoScan to conduct ground surveys. GeoScan’s archeological geophysics expert Brian Whiting said his findings of 17 potential graves is “indirect evidence” that cannot be confirmed without exhumation. He said the deeply forested terrain is challenging – impossible in some places – to survey.
“The number you see is a minimum,” he said.
Survivors of the Alberni school were on the forefront in pushing for justice for Canada’s residential school system.
Arthur Henry Plint, who was a dorm supervisor at the school, was imprisoned in 1997 for assaulting 16 Indigenous boys who were between the ages of 6 and 13, over two decades. He was not the only member of staff convicted of sexual abuse, but Mr. Plint’s case led the presiding judge, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hogarth, to describe Canada’s Indian residential school system as “nothing more than institutionalized pedophilia,” while he branded Mr. Plint a “sexual terrorist.”
The charges against Mr. Plint arose from a study started in 1992 by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, which includes the Tseshaht. In addition to physical and sexual abuse, researchers found that children at the school were denied food and health-care treatment in order to study the effects of malnutrition in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Wahmeesh said no-one has been held accountable for those experiments.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.