For decades, residents of remote Lower Post, B.C., have had to brave a building that once housed a residential school in order to access basic services.
The community is forced into using the space, including for its band office, despite its traumatic history because it is “all we have,” said Harlan Schilling, a councillor for the local Daylu Dena Council.
In an interview with The Globe, Mr. Schilling said his mother, who attended the former residential school, refuses to step foot into the building where he goes to work every day.
She is far from alone.
“That’s how much of a dark place this is,” Mr. Schilling said.
Social problems that exist within the community can be traced back to what happened at the former school, he added.
Now a local MP, who was elected last year, is supporting the community’s calls to remove the site and build something new.
NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said in an interview he recently visited Lower Post, located about five hours by vehicle from Whitehorse, where he heard first-hand of abuse and neglect experienced by former residential school students.
The community has been pushing for the building to be removed since the 1970s.
Mr. Bachrach said it is clear tearing down the former Lower Post Indian Residential School should have happened long ago to help with community healing. He added it was emotional to even step into the building.
“It is one thing to read about the history of residential schools in Canada,” Mr. Bachrach said.
“It is another thing to stand in the physical space and reflect on what it means for a tiny community in a very remote part of our country to be living every day with a reminder of that tragic history. When we talk about reconciliation, there needs to be action.”
Mr. Bachrach recently wrote to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller to call for the building to be replaced as soon as possible.
“It is unthinkable that in 2020, there’s a community that is forced to use a former residential school in that way," he said.
The Daylu Dena Council has proposed a vision of a new building for community gatherings, Mr. Bachrach said, noting the building itself should be condemned.
“It is full of asbestos,” he said. "There are major issue when it comes to the health and safety aspect of the building.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Miller said the federal government is aware of concerns that the Daylu Dena Council has with its current administration building, including its condition.
The government supports their decision to replace the current building, said press secretary Vanessa Adams, adding meetings have taken place to discuss the needs of the community and solutions.
“We will continue to work with them to develop proposals and work toward completing community planning," she said.
A spokesperson for Mr. Miller’s department added it is providing funding for the completion of a comprehensive community plan and it previously provided $285,000 toward the design a new administration building.
The Liberal government should ensure buildings like the one in Lower Post are taken down as soon as possible as it looks to act on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, Mr. Schilling said.
“It would be a starting point for their path of healing," he said.
“So that dark, grey cloud that has been hanging over our heads for years, maybe there is light at the end of the day.”