The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) has announced it will start an Indigenous-led initiative to find answers about the children who attended the former St. Paul’s Indian Residential School but never made it home.
This enquiry will be done in partnership with its relatives, the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
Over 2,000 Indigenous children, representing six generations of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, and səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ Nations, and other Indigenous communities, were institutionalized at St. Paul’s from grades one through eight.
Many of these same children were then forcibly relocated to Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the remains of at least 215 children were confirmed this May. Oral histories told by St. Paul’s survivors include stories about children who disappeared.
St. Paul’s Indian Residential School, located in present-day North Vancouver, was located next to the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh community of Eslhá7an. It was operated for 60 years by the Catholic Church until its closure in 1959.
According to public records, 12 unidentified students died while attending St. Paul’s between 1904 and 1913.
The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw’s goal with the investigation of the former residential school site, located within Squamish unceded territory, is to find the location of each of these children and bring them home to rest.
“It’s important to note that our People’s experiences with St. Paul’s Indian Residential School are well known and healing is needed to move forward. This work is being done to respect and address both known and unknown knowledge, and is a critical part of reconciliation,” says Khelsilem, spokesperson for the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw.
The investigation plans will be developed collaboratively among the three Host Nations, with support from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Though the process planning is still taking shape, it will involve an inquiry into St. Paul’s Indian Residential School and field investigation at the site, including a formalized interview process with survivors of the school.
A remote sensing search in defined areas of interest, which may include ground-penetrating radar studies or other suitable methods, will be also be carried out.