Williams Lake: As the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Marc Miller, prepare to visit the site of St. Joseph’s Mission this week, the Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs are calling for a meaningful role in the site investigation of this former residential school to promote healing for Tŝilhqot’in survivors and families.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation affirms the importance of site investigation at St. Joseph’s Mission to bring to light the atrocities experienced by generations of children at that site. It also acknowledges the special role of Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) in this work, as St. Joseph’s Mission is situated on traditional WLFN lands.
At the same time, St. Joseph’s Mission was the main residential school for the six Tŝilhqot’in communities (as well as Nuxalk, Southern Dakelh, Northern Secwepemc, and others). Generations of Tŝilhqot’in children were taken to St. Joseph’s Mission and every Tŝilhqot’in community and family is impacted by this legacy of trauma. Tŝilhqot’in survivors carry stories of the atrocities committed at that site and the children that did not return to their families.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation said it has repeatedly asked for a respectful approach to the site investigation that would see all affected Nations represented on a planning committee to guide this sensitive work in a way that respects the culture and protocols of each Nation. Unfortunately, these requests have not been honoured. Instead, Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs are invited to occasional “updates”, sometimes with less than 48 hours’ notice.
The Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs are deeply concerned that the current site investigation process is bringing more trauma, and not healing, for the Tŝilhqot’in people, as the communities grieve several tragic losses of life in recent weeks from overdoses and suicide.
The Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs will not attend or participate in the events at St. Joseph’s Mission with the Prime Minister and the Minister this week.
The Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs call on the Trudeau and Miller, and the WLFN leadership to commit to establishing a planning committee for the St. Joseph’s site investigation that includes Tŝilhqot’in Chiefs, along with leadership from all affected First Nations.
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government, said: “This site-investigation has already caused so much trauma in our communities. It only adds to the trauma when we are treated like bystanders to a process that affects our families and our communities so deeply. Nobody speaks for our Nation but us. We have asked for a seat at the table many times without action. We are asking for a meaningful planning role in this process so that our protocols, our leadership and our ceremonies are respected and honoured. We also call on BC and Canada to recognize the special significance of the St. Joseph’s Mission grounds and take steps to secure these lands on behalf of all affected Nations as a sacred historical site.”
The Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) recognizes that the information regarding Indian Residential Schools could be triggering for people. Support is available to anyone affected by the ongoing effects of Residential Schools. The National Indian Residential School Crisis Line can be reached 24-hours a day, 7-days a week at 1-866-925-4419.