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66 more potential graves identified at former Williams Lake, B.C., residential school

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graves identified at former Williams Lake B.C. residential school

The lead investigator in the search for unmarked graves at a former residential institution near the Williams Lake First Nation in central British Columbia says their work has uncovered 66 additional “reflections,” indicating children’s graves.

Whitney Spearing told a news conference the results of the second phase of their investigation show crimes were committed against children at the Catholic-run St. Joseph’s Mission, which operated between 1886 and 1981.

In addition to the reflections found in a technical survey, she said interviews with survivors and searches through archival records revealed that babies born as a result of child sexual assault at the mission were disposed of by incineration.

Spearing said their work found “a minimum” of 28 children died at the mission, many of them buried in unmarked graves around the site.

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She concluded her remarks Wednesday by saying it “must be emphasized” that no geophysical investigation could provide evidence of human remains with certainty.

“Excavation is the only technique that will provide answers as to whether human remains are present within the reflections at St. Joseph’s Mission,” Spearing said.

The nation first announced a year ago that the first phase of its investigation had uncovered 93 “reflections” indicative of human burials.

Combined, both phases identified 159 possible unmarked graves.

Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said 34 of 782 hectares requiring investigation have so far been subjected to geophysical analysis, and the next steps will potentially involve excavation in areas that have already been scanned.

Children from 48 different First Nations attended the institution, he said, and engaging with those communities around potential exhumation is a “scary thought.”

“But by working together, I feel confident that we will be able to hold each other up.”

The purpose of the investigation is “bringing the truth to light,” Sellars said.

Some Canadians question the legitimacy of his community’s investigation and others underway at former residential institutions across the country, he added.

“To those who are skeptical, we assure you that there is an overwhelming abundance of evidence, and that it is being carefully compiled in an orderly and scientific way.”

The probe at St. Joseph’s began after ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be more than 200 graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., in May 2021, prompting similar searches and findings in several provinces.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

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