Editor’s note: This article contains details about experiences at residential schools in B.C. and may be upsetting to readers.
Three prominent Vancouver Island Indigenous leaders are raising funds to search the Island’s five residential schools with the same technology used to discover the mass grave site in Kamloops last week.
Tired of waiting on the federal government to take action, filmmaker and journalist Steve Sxwithul’txw, renowned carver Tom LaFortune and educator and producer Michelle Mundy launched a GoFundMe campaign Tuesday to purchase their own searching technology. As of Wednesday morning, the fundraiser has raised more than $28,000, surpassing its original goal of $25,000.
This is the amount Sxwithul’txw estimates they will need to buy one ground-penetrating radar unit. The units consist of a small antenna shaped like a box, which is dragged along the surface of the ground while sending a signal into the soil. If the soil has been disturbed, as it would have been to dig graves, the unit’s signal will change.
|Steve Sxwithul'txw is a journalist, filmmaker and residential school survivor. (Black Press Media file photo)
“It’s about helping our ancestors,” said Sxwithul’txw, a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School. “They have been pushed aside in unmarked graves in places they never wanted to go to in the first place. It’s heartbreaking.”
On Tuesday, former senator and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair issued a statement saying that more mass grave sites will be found.
“Survivors talked about children who suddenly went missing. Some talked about children who went missing into mass burial sites. Some survivors talked about infants who were born to young girls at the residential schools, infants who had been fathered by priests, were taken away from them and deliberately killed – sometimes thrown into furnaces, we were told,” he said.
For Sxwithul’txw, the next step is engaging with the different First Nations where the residential school properties are located.
“The focus for us is on getting these young children back where they belong,” he said.
Despite the renewed pain and anger of the last week, Sxwithul’txw said he’s feeling hopeful. Based on the messages he has received, he believes many of the GoFundMe donations have come from non-Indigenous people who want to do something to help.
“I think these next couple of years are going to be country changing,” he said. “I think we’re seeing the cusp of something much, much bigger and the realization that Canada has failed First Nations in more than one way – they’ve taken our lives.”
Sxwithul’txw said he’s talking with a number of experts, figuring out how they can go about their search, and that he’ll be updating donors along the way. On Vancouver Island, there are 202 children known to have died at five residential schools, although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates the number is actually far higher. These are their names.
Kuper Island Residential School – Penelakut Island (1890-1975)
Adeline Celestine Jones
Belinda Marie Jack
Everest Alex George
George Moses (Kuper Island)
John Baptist Jim
Lilly Leo Charlie
Lizzie Joseph Edward
Lucy Peter Norris
Mary Agnes Johnston
Mary Josie Siah
Norma Pauline Frank
Norman Clarence Aleck
P. Williams (Kuper Island)
Patricia Marilyn Joseph
Raymond A. Brown
Rosy Michael David
Veronica Classetow Canute
St. Michaels Residential School – Alert Bay (1894 -1974)
Andrea Helen Alfred
George L. Humchitt
Jackie Archie James
Molly Irene Moon
Christie Residential School – Tofino/Meares Island (1900 -1983)
James Louie George
Alberni Residential School – Port Alberni (1900 -1973)
Gary James Hopkins
Herb Robert Green
Lily Peal Smith
Mary Elaine George
Shirley Leslie Williams
Ahousaht Residential School – Ahousaht Island (1904 -1940)
The GoFundMe, called Find Our Lost Children, can be found at gofundme.com.
Residential school survivors who need support can call the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
-With files from The Canadian Press
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