The St. Joseph’s Mission (SJM) Residential School is located just kilometers from the Williams Lake First Nation community core of T’exelc (commonly known as “Sugar Cane”). The St. Joseph’s Mission was operated as an Indian Residential School between 1886 and 1981. Thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the school, administered by the Catholic Oblates and part of the residential school system set up by the Government of Canada. The nearby Onward Ranch was added to the Oblates holdings in 1964 and operated as a ranch and farm to sustain St Joseph’s Mission.
Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) started the investigation into the disappeared and deceased Indigenous children at the former SJM Residential School in July 2021. The investigation will be conducted in several phases as the overall area is approximately 470-hectares.
The investigation involves four key components:
- Geophysical investigation.
- Archival and photographic research.
- Survivor interviews.
- Engagement (community, family, frontline, and political).
The geophysical investigation of the Phase 1 area started in August 2021. WLFN has used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Magnetometry and Terrestrial LiDAR to search the 14-hectare Phase 1 area. On January 25th, 2022, WLFN released the results from Phase 1 of the geophysical investigation. To date, the GPR found 93 reflections that have been recorded at the former St. Joseph’s Mission. All reflections in the GPR data have been marked and reviewed through a rigorous quality control process, and each reflection show characteristics indicative of human burials.
Throughout the Phase 2 geophysical investigation, WLFN used the same method of GPR technology to survey approximately 18 additional hectares of land. To date, 66 reflections in that Phase 2 area have been recorded which display characteristics indicative of potential human remains. WLFN emphasizes that no geophysical investigation can provide absolute certainty as to the presence of human remains, and that excavation of these reflection areas would be required to make a definitive determination.
The archival and photographic research is an ongoing component of the investigation. WLFN has been working closely with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), the Royal BC Museum Provincial Archives, Esketemc First Nation Archives, the Archdiocese of Vancouver and Prince George, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, and other institutions to gather all relevant records regarding the SJM.
Survivor interviews are also a key component of the investigation. To date, the SJM team has conducted 21 interviews. Survivor stories go hand-in-hand with the archival and photographic research completed by the SJM team, and are integral in informing the investigative approach. Interviews have been conducted with members from Williams Lake First Nation, Ulkatcho First Nation, Mt. Currie First Nation, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, and other First Nations communities.
In response to the results, WLFN Chief Willie Sellars states:
“As we move forward, WLFN will continue to work diligently and collaboratively with survivors and their families, our neighboring First Nation communities and their members, the federal and provincial governments, and the private landowners. This is a very complicated, stressful and emotionally draining process so we want to continue to conduct this investigation in as positive and supportive a way as possible. WLFN remains committed to seeking resolution and truth for those survivors and families who have lost children through the residential school system at St. Joseph’s Mission.”
For general inquires, please contact:
e. [email protected]
Health and Wellness Supports.
WLFN’s local Social Development after hours helpline is available seven days a week, from 8am – 8pm. You can call this number in times of crisis: 778.267.6677.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911
Emergency Emotional & Spiritual Health Resource Guide
WLFN has published a guidebook, compiling available emergency emotional and spiritual health resources. A digital copy of the guide book is available right here (click link). Printed copies are available at WLFN’s offices at 2561 Quigli Drive and 315 Yorston St, as well as at the Cwelcwélt Health Station, 2780 Indian Drive, Sugar Cane, BC.
Tsqílye (sweat lodge) ceremonies are held regularly in the community of Sugar Cane. Everybody is welcome. Contact David Archie at 778-220-7934 for further details.
The Cwelcwélt Health Station in Sugar Cane has a wealth of great resources and programs for WLFN members. Find out all they have to offer here (click link).