Comprehensive ground analysis at the former St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School near Williams Lake begins today, Monday, Aug. 30, with a ceremony.
“We had planned to have 200 people, but with COVID restrictions upgraded last week we had to change it,” said Whitney Spearing, Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) manager of title and rights. “But people who are wanting to tune in can watch it as it will be live-streamed.”
The ceremony, which is by invitation only, will go from 9 a.m. to noon.
Chiefs from the Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh, Secwepemc, Nuxalk and Lillooet nations have all been invited, Spearing said.
St. Joseph’s Mission was established in 1867 by Roman Catholic Oblate missionaries in an area just south of the current WLFN community of Sugar Cane.
In 1886, St. Joseph’s became an Indian Residential School and remained one until it was closed in 1981.
After the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, WLFN announced in June it planned to investigate the St. Joseph’s Mission site as well.
GeoScan, the company hired to do ground penetrating radar for WLFN, will do some ground probing as part of the ceremony, however, the bulk of the work will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
It is expected to last 35 days. Spearing said it is the preliminary investigation and will cover about 150,000 square metres.
Eventually the plan is to investigate a larger area of about 460 hectares.
Encompassed in the preliminary investigation are historic buildings and barns that are still standing, the school footprint and the cemetery.
To date Sugar Cane Archaeology has completed mapping of the structures and footprint of where it is known buildings used to be when the mission was operating, Spearing said.
Most of the 460,000 hectare area has been photographed by a drone and some fixed wing Lidar scanning has been occurred, which will be followed up with more Lidar scanning done by walking on the ground.
“Our archival research is ongoing and massive,” Spearing added.
In July, the WLFN announced an email had been established for people to provide information relevant to the investigation at St. Joseph’s mission, however most people have chosen to telephone, text, message through Facebook or visit in person.
While the email firstname.lastname@example.org is still valid, Spearing said if that isn’t hitting people’s needs they can text, phone or walk right into the office.
“We have people to help and set them up with supports and whatever they need.”
There are people travelling from other parts of the province for the ceremony who we will be doing interviews during the week about specific areas at the site that should be targeted with the ground penetrating radar, she said.