Nadleh Whut’en First Nation chief and council are working on a strategy to begin searching for unmarked graves at the Lejac residential school site — formerly run by the Catholic Church under contract with the Canadian government.
“We are here to honour and support the survivors of the Lejac Indian Residential School and their families as we move forward with this sacred project,” Chief Larry Nooski said in a statement on Thursday Feb. 17.
“We must stand together while we undertake this work that will not only provide a sense of closure, but will ensure that all we have sacrificed as people will never be forgotten.”
The Lejac site has already seen some excavation and removal of building waste and materials left behind after the buildings were demolished – including the concrete foundation and other parts of the building, some of which required careful removal due to asbestos.
Because of the confirmation of unmarked graves across Canada at former residential school sites, the site is being monitored by Nadleh Whut’en officials. The First Nation is limiting access to security personnel, research and recovery teams under the direction of chief and council.
“The findings of mass graves and unmarked burials in or near former Indian Residential Schools such as, Tk’umlups te Secwépemc, Williams Lake, and Cowessess has raised the awareness of ongoing matters related to healing and support for survivors and the legacy of intergenerational trauma caused by abuses of Catholic Priests, Nuns, RCMP and others,” chief and council said in a written statement.
“Nadleh Whut’en has a desire to undertake the monumental task of searching the Lejac area for unmarked graves, but understands that to for those who attended, this work should be strategic, well planned and implemented with the proper resourcing and supports.”
Ground penetrating radar scans are only a small part of a process that the First Nation said needs to be done “with careful consideration of criminal investigations, impacts to survivors” and Nadleh Whut’en staff and leadership workloads.
“Nadleh Whut’en leadership will be able to move forward in such a manner with the support of the survivors of Lejac, their membership, B.C. and Canada,” chief and council wrote.
Nadleh Whut’en will also be sending a delegation to the Vatican in March, as part of the Assembly of First Nations delegation.
A national 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to support survivors and those affected. You can access emotional and crisis support referral services by calling 1-866-925-4419.