‘Strength from Within’ is a sculpture by artist Connie Watts that stands next to the Tseshaht Longhouse, on the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS). It commemorates survivors and those who did not make it home. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)

‘Strength from Within’ is a sculpture by artist Connie Watts that stands next to the Tseshaht Longhouse, on the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS). It commemorates survivors and those who did not make it home. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)

Island First Nation asks for healing centre at site of former residential school

MP Gord Johns supports Tseshaht First Nation’s request

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains details about experiences at residential schools in B.C. that may be disturbing to readers.

In the wake of the discovery of an unmarked gravesite at a former residential school site in Kamloops, Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni is asking for a healing centre to be built on their former residential school site.

On June 1, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns brought forward a request to the House of Commons from Tseshaht First Nation. The nation is asking for resources from the federal government to remove the remaining buildings that belonged to the Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) and replace them with a healing centre for survivors.

“If the government and the churches can build these horrible places, they can build healing places to take their spots,” said Johns. “[Tseshaht] made it very clear that they need action, not more words. They don’t want to be known as the place that had a residential school that caused harm. They want a place where they can reclaim their power.”

READ MORE: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’

A GoFundMe campaign was recently started by three Vancouver Island Indigenous leaders to search Vancouver Island’s five residential schools with the same technology used to discover the mass grave site in Kamloops. The campaign raised more than $77,000 in two days.

READ MORE: Indigenous leaders want Vancouver Island residential schools searched for victims

Ken Watts, elected chief councillor for Tseshaht First Nation, wants to see the AIRS site searched with ground-penetrating radar, but he also wants to see more research into church, RCMP and government records about the residential school.

Setting up supports for survivors, he added, is equally important.

“It was placed in our backyard,” said Watts. “We never consented to it being there and the atrocities that were committed there. We need to do some research, and we shouldn’t have to pay a dollar out of our own pockets for that research.”

The Peake Hall student dormitory at AIRS was demolished in 2009, but there are still several buildings standing on the Tseshaht reserve that were part of the residential school system. One building still stands that used to host classes. Tseshaht has been in conversations with the federal government for years about the deconstruction of that building.

“But we need that solid commitment from the government,” said Watts.

Watts says that Tseshaht wants the old AIRS buildings to be replaced by a health and wellness multiplex, including a new gymnasium. Maht Mahs gym was also part of AIRS, but this has now become a community “hub” for Tseshaht First Nation and other Nuu-chah-nulth people in Port Alberni.

“But our goal has always been to build something new,” said Watts. “We want people to look at Tseshaht as a place that supported them, not a place that caused harm. The impacts of that place went far beyond our community. We want to turn around the story and create a positive space.”

Nuu-chah-nulth artist Connie Watts was commissioned to create a piece of memorial artwork that was installed in 2014 at the site of the former residential school.

Ken Watts acknowledged the work of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation for bringing this conversation to light.

“This has opened up a lot of wounds,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about the survivors–they’ve been on my mind so much this past week.”

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 30 students are confirmed to have died at AIRS, but Canada has never done a full accounting of how many children died at residential schools across the country. The commission notes that records were destroyed, went missing and that the deaths of many children simply went unrecorded.

“We want to make sure they’re honoured and get a proper journey home,” said Watts.

The B.C. Society of Residential School Survivors is offering toll-free telephone support for survivors at 1-800-721-0066. The 24-hour crisis line number is 1-866-925-4419. Kuu-us Crisis Line (adults): 250-723-4050; (youth) 250-723-2040 or 1-800-588-8717.



elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

PORT ALBERNIresidential schools

Just Posted

The District of Saanich has pinpointed funding requests to Oak Bay and Victoria to help offset the purchase price of the Kings Park greenspace and keep the property intact. (Courtesy District of Saanich)
Saanich requests funding help from neighbours to preserve Kings Road green space

District hopes Victoria and Oak Bay will join them in protecting urban green space

North Saanich council Monday will consider the results of a survey conducted by the North Saanich Residents Association that finds little support for increased densification. (Black Press Media File)
Survey finds little support for increased density in North Saanich

North Saanich Residents Association conducted the online survey

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stood at 6.3 per cent in May 2021, nearly unchanged from April’s rate of 6.2 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stagnates at 6.3 per cent in May

Latest figures reflect conditions before lifting of public health measures

Thriving Toots Wilderness School is trying to buy a 98-acre plot of undeveloped land from the Boys and Girls’ Club of Greater Victoria in Metchosin. (Contributed/Thriving Roots)
Hopeful buyers of Boys and Girls’ Club land in Metchosin would keep it wild

Nature-based school, partners trying to secure financing to buy 98-acre property: school director

Victoria police are looking for Delmer Esau who was last seen in Esquimalt June 1. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Search continues for man last seen in Esquimalt

Delmer Esau, 35, hasn’t been seen since June 1

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Most Read