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B.C. First Nation issues 26 calls to action in wake of unmarked grave discovery

Tseshaht First Nation: at least 67 children died while attending Alberni Indian Residential School

Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni has released 26 calls to action after a research project revealed that at least 67 children died while attending Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) on Tseshaht land.

READ MORE: Probe into former Alberni residential school resets the death toll at 67

The ?uu?atumin yaqckwiimitqin (Doing it for our Ancestors) team revealed on Feb. 21, 2023 that it also discovered 17 suspected burial sites of children who never made it home.

“We cannot let these findings become just another statistic,” said Tseshaht elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts) in a press release. “Our 26 Calls for Truth and Justice ensure any further investigations into what happened at this ‘school’ are done independently and that survivors, their families and our community are given wellness support they need to heal.”

The calls for action are directed to all levels of government (federal, provincial, regional and municipal), as well as the RCMP and the Presbyterian Church and United Church of Canada.

They call for further investigations into AIRS, done by an independent body, and full funding for this work. Tseshaht also calls for new, age-appropriate curriculum for K-12 students so that future generations continue to learn about residential schools and those who did not make it home.

Another call to action asks for the federal government to fund deconstruction of the still-standing AIRS structures on Tseshaht territory (Caldwell Hall and Maht Mahs gym), as well as replacement of these structures with a new multiplex and community centre.

Tseshaht First Nation also wants to see Canada, B.C. and the churches fully fund any memorialization projects. Tseshaht has plans to construct a memorial gazebo on AIRS land with the names of all students who attended AIRS.

The calls to action are as follows:

1. Further legal investigations are to be done by an independent body consented to by Tseshaht. They are not to be led by the RCMP, given their history of removing children from their homes and placing them in residential schools, including AIRS.

2. Establish an independent body, consented to by Tseshaht, to perform an investigation/inquiry regarding medical records. Explore the interconnectedness between residential schools and Indian Hospitals.

3. Require ongoing commitment to health and wellness supports for survivors and their families.

4. Full funding for Tseshaht to hand deliver information to families of student deaths at AIRS so that it may be done in a culturally appropriate way.

5. Commit funding for nations and caretaker communities to do more research on students’ deaths.

6. Create a Canadian or regional center of excellence for this research, scanning and investigative work for nations to learn from one another (building off the BC working group).

7. Sign long-term funding agreements with caretaker communities over four or five years that are predictable, sustainable and flexible.

8. Increase funding to address drug, alcohol, mental health and trauma in communities.

9. Develop an “intergenerational family impacts” initiative to support descendants of AIRS.

10. Fully fund security of potential unmarked graves and burials of the AIRS research sites.

11. Provide annual funding to host annual cultural events and ceremonies, such as National Indigenous Peoples Day, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/Orange Shirt Day and all other cultural events Tseshaht hosts with respect to AIRS.

12. Creating space for AIRS survivors to have a special engagement with the Special Interlocutor.

13. Review the previous Indian Residential School settlement to determine the impacts on student deaths, if changes on any portions of the settlement are required and for Tseshaht to determine if a further review and further legal action is required.

14. Canada, churches/faiths and RCMP consider an updated apology to AIRS survivors, their descendants and Tseshaht First Nation based on these new facts with respect to student deaths, unmarked graves and burials from AIRS and declaring this a genocide and cultural genocide.

15. Review legal barriers to research and scanning both provincial and federally, including nation accessibility to medical health records, and develop an action plan so research can be conducted and concluded.

16. Address existing barriers with privacy legislation that limit accessibility of medical records and the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) database for Tseshaht First Nation.

17. Support Indigenous data governance with respect to caretaker community information of AIRS for Tseshaht First Nation.

18. Ensure the Special Interlocutor can make free and unfiltered recommendations based on First Nations and survivor input into the final report, including Tseshaht First Nation and other caretaker communities’ access to records in seeking truth and justice.

19. Revisit the medical and nutritional experiments done on the children of AIRS and across Canada, as uncovered by researcher Dr. Ian Mosby. Fully fund research, investigation/inquiry and other work as required to bring justice to this issue which has completely fallen off the government’s radar.

20. Develop a “Truth for Youth” age-appropriate curriculum for K-12, focused on those who did not make it home from residential schools. While there currently is curriculum in B.C. and across Canada, this was created before public knowledge of unmarked graves and burials.

21. Support the development of training for First Nations on all aspects of scanning, research, and other important technical work, such as drone LiDAR, so that First Nations may someday do all this work themselves instead of hiring external companies.

22. Under Canada’s Indian Residential School Infrastructure Fund:

a. Canada fully funds Tseshaht First Nation for the deconstruction of agreed to buildings (Caldwell Hall agreed to by Tseshaht) and pay all event costs for hosting such an event.

b. Canada fully funds the construction of a new mutiplex/community center, including a gymnasium, fitness gym, commercial kitchen and office space which replaces those of similar size and uses of current AIRS buildings (formerly standing main building, Ross Hall, Peake Hall and the still-standing Caldwell Hall and Maht Mahs gym).

c. When or if Tseshaht First Nation has consented to it, Canada fully funds deconstruction of the gymnasium from AIRS (now known as Maht Mahs).

d. Canada funds the full assessment, feasibility, design and removal of former AIRS utilities and infrastructure of water and sewer.

23. Canada, B.C., churches and others fully fund all memorialization projects, including AIRS survivor priority of a memorial with the names of all students who attended AIRS with a gazebo and more (like those seen at war memorials) in Tseshaht territory.

24. Memorial fund for survivors’ headstones. Survivor paraphrased quote: “If Canada can help pay for headstones of war veterans, why can’t they pay for our warriors (survivors) who had to go through the war of the residential schools?”

25. In collaboration with Tseshaht First Nation, Canada and B.C., provide necessary funding to Tseshaht, including but not limited to:

a. Construction and operations of a Health, Wellness and Healing Centre on Tseshaht territory to address the impacts of AIRS on survivors and their descendants.

b. Continued research and scanning.

c. Memorialization projects, including Tseshaht’s planned initiative.

26. Canada, in consultation with and at the consent of Tseshaht First Nation, will conduct an independent/inquiry review to determine the role of the RCMP with respect to AIRS.

Tseshaht has called upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier David Eby, the RCMP and leaders of churches and faiths to meet with Tseshaht First Nation “as soon as possible” to develop a solid action plan and resources to implement the 26 calls for truth and justice.

About the Author: Alberni Valley News Staff

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