The St. Joseph’s Mission (SJM) Residential School is located just kilometers from the Williams Lake First Nation community core (commonly known as “Sugar Cane”). The St. Joseph’s Mission was operated as an Indian Residential School between 1886 and 1981 where thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend the school which was administered by the Catholic Oblates and part of the residential school system set up by the Government of Canada. The Onward Ranch was added to the Oblates holdings in 1964 and operated as a ranch and farm to sustain the St Joseph’s Mission.
Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) started the investigation into the missing and murdered 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 three key components:
- Geophysical investigation.
- Archival and photographic research.
- Survivor interviews.
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 and other First Nations communities.
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.
WLFN is currently preparing a strategy for Phase 2 of the SJM Investigation.
The next phase of the investigation will include:
- Additional geophysical investigation of those portions of the SJM site not covered by Phase 1;
- Additional research and survivor interviews; and
- Engagement with affected communities, the governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the owners of the lands which comprise the site of the former SJM.
WLFN is truly grateful for the communities, members and organizations who have showed their ongoing support following the release of the geophysical results at the former SJM Residential School.
This was a significant step not only for WLFN, but for the people, and nations in this country who have been impacted by Residential Schools. This was one small step in a long journey towards truth, reconciliation and justice.