WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
A search of the grounds of the former St. Joseph's Mission Residential School in B.C.'s Interior has begun, as local First Nations look for confirmation of what happened to the children who were forced to attend the institution, but never returned home.
Ground penetrating radar, also used at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site, has been employed to search the area for evidence of potential unmarked graves.
A small percentage of the 4.5 square kilometre site has been prioritized after extensive research into the history of the land. About 0.15 square kilometres will be searched, and leaders expect that work to take several years.
"We're not going to have answers to these questions and concerns and whatnot right away," Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars told Daybreak Kamloops guest host Doug Herbert.
"We will be moving towards our healing journey and making sure that we do have those wellness supports, those cultural supports in place for anybody that's impacted."
The facility, located near the Williams Lake First Nation community, operated from 1886 to 1981 and was run by Roman Catholic missionaries.
Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of its students has been documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
The structure has since been torn down, but the painful memories for survivors and their families remain.
Do you know of a child who never came home from residential school? Or know someone who worked at one? We would like to hear from you. Email our Indigenous-led team investigating the impacts of residential schools at: email@example.com or call toll-free: 1-833-824-0800.
Sellars' father and grandmother both attended the school.
"Those wounds, those traumas from that school that we're still seeing in each and every single one of our communities through direct survivors [and] individuals suffering from intergenerational trauma ... it's very easy to trigger somebody."
Searches across Canada
Since the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that a ground penetrating radar specialist had found what could be upwards of 200 unmarked grave sites in May, First Nations communities across Canada have taken on similar work. These are some of them:
The federal government has pledged more than $320 million to go toward searching residential school sites and support for survivors. The B.C. government has also said it will provide funding of up to $475,000 each to 21 Indigenous communities to help with searches for remains at former residential schools or hospitals.
That money, Sellars said, is much needed.
"It's very expensive work that needs to be done," he said.
"I think the consensus across the country is that people are very supportive. I mean, they're blown away and shocked at this history of residential schools and the legacy that's left behind in each of our communities. Those allies are very important moving forward."
LISTEN | Williams Lake First Nation chief describes work to be done at former residential school
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.