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Ahousaht First Nation releases findings from search for missing residential school children

April 11, 2024

Likely and potential unmarked grave locations found at schools 

Jackie McKay · CBC · 

Houses are in the distance on an island with water in the foreground and mountains in the background.
Ahousaht, on Flores Island, is one of B.C.’s largest coastal First Nation communities. (Chris Corday/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details

CBC Indigenous: Posted: Apr 10, 2024 7:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: 2 hours ago

ʕaaḥuusʔath (Ahousaht) First Nation released the findings from the first phase of its search for missing children who attended two residential schools in its territory on Wednesday in Ahousaht, B.C.

In a press conference in the community, the team went over the ground surveys it conducted, as well as archival research and oral history from both Ahousaht Indian Residential School on Maaqutusiis (Flores Island) and the Christie Indian Residential School on Hilth hoo is (Meares Island), located near ʕaaḥuusʔatḥ territory, about 220 kilometres northwest of Victoria. 

Likely and potential unmarked grave locations were noted on both Ahousaht Indian Residential School and the Christie Indian Residential School.  

“We need to investigate more and clarify and confirm,” said Angus Campbell, an elected council member for Ahousaht First Nation. “We don’t want to be not telling the truth.” 

The presentation said there are presumed graves in Ahousaht cemetery and a cluster of unknown features that need to be investigated further. 

A man looks at the camera standing near the beach with white hair and a tanned jacket.
Angus Campbell, an elected council member for Ahousaht First Nation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The findings also showed many inconsistencies between archival documentation of the schools and the gathered oral histories. 

Wednesday was an emotional day, said Greg Louie, former chief of Ahousaht and a survivor of the Christie Residential School. 

“A lot of people wanted to know numbers… I think going into the next, the next phase,” said Louie. 

“Was it my sister? Was it my mom? You know, who didn’t make it home?” 

Students from Ahousaht Residential School and Christie Residential School reported stories of slugs in the milk, worms in oatmeal and maggots in the food, which was contrary to archival reports of menus served at the schools. 

“We’re getting close to confirming some of  what we’ve been told,” said Campbell. “Not that we don’t believe our people, but we need to confirm it for the rest of the world.” 

Ahousaht Indian Residential School opened in 1904 and ran until 1940.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) website said it was Presbyterian-run, until the United Church took over in 1925. The website said students were not permitted to speak their Indigenous language and every staff member carried a strap. The NCTR lists the names of 13 students known to have died there. 

The residential school burned down in 1940 and was replaced with a day school. 

Christie Indian Residential School, on Hilth hoo is (Meares Island), opened in 1900.

The NCTR website said six children died of tubercular meningitis between 1939 and 1941, and over several years in the 1950s a school maintenance worker sexually abused a student. The NCTR lists the names of 23 students known to have died there. 

After 1969, the school was administered by the federal government. In 1971, the school closed and students were moved to the Christie Student Residence in Tofino, B.C., which was transferred to the West Coast District Council of Indian Chiefs in the mid-’70s and closed in 1983.

The project has created 471 student folders of documentation of students who attend the Christie Residential School, but there has been less documentation on the students who went to the Ahousaht Residential School. 

A man in a black sweater stands in front of beach.
Greg Louie, former chief of Ahousaht First Nation. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Louie, the former chief, said confirming numbers eventually is important to solidify this information and combat “naysayers” who say residential school wasn’t that bad. 

“Our people were hurt,” said Louie. “It is real.” 

Anne Atleo, ʔahʔiiḥčp ʔukʷił ʔiqḥmuut (Honouring Our Ancient Ones) Residential School Research Project Manager, said during the presentation that there is further investigation that needs to be done and securing long term funding and better access to archival material is needed for this to happen. 

“We’ve always known what the truth is,” said Atleo. 

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.

  • A previous version of this story said the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation lists the names of 13 students who died at Christie Indian Residential School. In fact, the NCTR lists 23 students. Apr 10, 2024 12:07 PM ET

Jackie McKay, Reporter

Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC Indigenous covering B.C. She was a reporter for CBC North for more than five years spending the majority of her time in Nunavut. McKay has also worked in Whitehorse, Thunder Bay, and Yellowknife. 

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