Organizers raise $77,000 to help Snuneymuxw First Nation identify unmarked graves

·2 min read
CBC footage from 1964 shows children at the Nanaimo Indian Hospital going into a classroom on the site.  (CBC Archives - image credit)
CBC footage from 1964 shows children at the Nanaimo Indian Hospital going into a classroom on the site. (CBC Archives - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Organizers of an online fundraiser will be giving $77,000 to the Snuneymuxw First Nation on Wednesday to help it search for and identify possible unmarked graves in and around the former grounds of the Nanaimo Indian Hospital.

The Nanaimo, B.C., hospital was one of 29 run by the Department of National Health and Welfare across Canada for Indigenous patients from 1946 to 1967. The hospitals were intertwined with the residential school system.

Steve Sxwithul'txw of the Penelakut Tribe, one of the organizers of the fundraiser, said "the hospital was a nightmare for our people on so many different levels."

"A lot of atrocities happened at that hospital," Sxwithul'txw, a filmmaker, told host Michelle Eliot on BC Today.

"Shifting [focus] to that hospital to find out if some of our lost children and peoples are in and around those grounds is a critical point that a lot of people are asking and wanting, especially the people that attended that hospital."

There were three such hospitals in B.C., in Nanaimo, Prince Rupert and Sardis. At the time, treatments for tuberculosis were not well developed and particularly painful. There were also reports of physical and sexual abuse at the facilities.

'A tough summer for us'

The online fundraiser came about after a summer of reckoning following an announcement in May from the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation that it had discovered the remains of 215 children buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Since then, hundreds of remains have been identified near the former sites of other residential schools in B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Sxwithul'txw, along with carver Tom LaFortune and educator Michele Mundy, started a GoFund Me campaign to help Vancouver Island First Nations conduct their own research around former residential school sites.

"It's been a tough summer for us. It's been a tough summer for Indigenous people," said Sxwithul'txw, who attended a residential school in the 1970s.

"For me, as a survivor, it's critically important for us to keep voicing this so that it doesn't fade into the sunset."

The group has raised $157,000. It awarded $75,000 to the Ahousaht First Nation on July 20, and will be giving Snuneymuxw First Nation $77,000 on Wednesday.

In a statement, Snuneymuxw Chief Michael Wyse thanked the organizers for the support.

"Our people carry the enormous emotional, physical and spiritual injury and harm of residential schools and Indian hospitals. Some of our people did not survive and were left behind in unmarked graves in our territory," he said.

"I want to sincerely thank Sxwithul'txw, Michele and Tom for helping to bring these truths to the forefront of the national public eye."

Support is available for anyone affected by the lingering effects of residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides a First Nations and Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's toll free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717 or online at kuu-uscrisisline.com.

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