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B.C. helps Williams Lake First Nation buy property at former residential school site

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. — A former British Columbia residential school site being investigated as a possible location of unmarked graves has been purchased by the Williams Lake First Nation with the help of the provincial government.

The nation’s chief, Willie Sellars, says the purchase of the private property ensures the integrity of the ongoing investigation, and allows them to think about how to honour the children who disappeared and those who were taken from their families and forced to attend the school. 

An investigator said last January there was evidence of crimes against children, and two separate investigations using ground-penetrating radar at the former school site had detected 159 possible unmarked graves. 

The Catholic-run school operated from 1891 to 1981 near Williams Lake, located about 500 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.

First Nations in B.C. have taken different approaches to former residential schools on their territories, with Alert Bay and Lower Post demolishing the sites, while the nations in Kamloops and Williams Lake decided to keep the buildings.

Murray Rankin, B.C.’s Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister, says in a statement that residential school survivors and their families say the sites are of great significance to the process of truth telling and they must be protected.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

The Canadian Press