Tseshaht receives $2.7 million to locate and commemorate missing children who attended AIRS  | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tseshaht receives $2.7 million to locate and commemorate missing children who attended AIRS 

Port Alberni, BC

On Nov. 16, Tseshaht First Nation and the federal government announced $2.7 million in funding to continue work locating and commemorating missing children who attended Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS), with a total investment that now amounts to over $3.2 million.

“Tseshaht has always supported AIRS survivors and this funding will ensure the truth is shared as there is no reconciliation without first truth,” said Wally Samuel of Ahousaht, who is an AIRS survivor, in the press release. “We look forward to Canada contributing these funds so Tseshaht and survivors can carry on this sacred yet difficult work.”

It was in July of 2022 when Tseshaht began their first phase of scanning on grounds of the former residential school. Meanwhile research was underway, and after 18 months of work findings were released by the Nation, alongside the 26 Calls for Truth and Justice.

Prior to the Tseshaht’s scanning and research the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Memorial Register accounted for 29 students who passed away while attending the school. But the First Nation determined that the number of students who died at the school was at a minimum of 67, alongside a minimum of 17 suspected graves sites, reads a press release from Tseshaht.

"Tseshaht First Nation is pleased to receive this additional support from the Government of Canada as we head into the second phase of our difficult, important, and sacred work,” said Tseshaht Chief Councillor Ken Watts (Wahmeesh), in the Nov. 16 press release. 

“Grounded in our culture and guided by survivors, scanning and research were our phase-one priorities,” said Watts. “We have more difficult work ahead in phase two, including additional scanning, delivery of records, memorialization and honoring of those lost and those still with us, and so much more.”

Watts shared that one of the large components of phase two will be delivering records to families.

“We have information packages that we're assembling, and we'll be communicating out to families,” shared Watts. “[For] some we have records that we want to deliver to those families, because some of them don't know very much about their loved one that passed.”

“We actually want to get out into communities where these children lived,” he added.

Another component of phase two will be memorialization. 

“The memorial we have now is really about the history of AIRS from its creation to its closure,” said Watts. “The survivors really wanted a place and a space that has the names of students that attended and those that didn't make it home.”

“As we carry on this work, not only seeking more information but also sharing it with others, Tseshaht First Nation recognizes Canada as they continue to contribute to this work in a meaningful way as announced today," said Watts in the press release.

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