Waiting for answers in Fort Resolution, 64 years after residential school closed

·3 min read
Wilfred Simon, a residential school survivor, says he called for a search for unmarked graves in Fort Resolution 13 years ago, but none was made. (Kate Kyle/CBC - image credit)
Wilfred Simon, a residential school survivor, says he called for a search for unmarked graves in Fort Resolution 13 years ago, but none was made. (Kate Kyle/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details and images some readers may find distressing.

Fort Resolution is a long way from Kamloops, B.C., but the community is grieving for the estimated 215 children whose remains were found on the grounds of a former residential school there.

The discovery in Kamloops has brought some in Fort Resolution to consider, again, what may lay in unmarked graves from residential school days in their own community.

The former St. Joseph's Residential school in Fort Resolution was one of the first such schools in the N.W.T., and for years people have been talking about the possibility of unmarked graves.

Thirteen years ago Wilfred Simon called for an investigation into how many unmarked graves there may be for children who died at the residential school in Fort Resolution. But nothing was done, he said.

Simon lives in Fort Resolution and is a residential school survivor. He thinks a lot about the children who never made it home. And for Simon the passage of time has not softened the pain.

"Even now it's tough to talk about it," he said.

"I get so emotional just thinking of kids stuck there — taken away [from their parents]. They're probably so lost and so hurt and then they die in the arms of ... they probably don't even know who. They don't know why. They just missed their parents."

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

'Use those machines here'

On May 27, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said that preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds conducted by a "specialist in ground-penetrating radar" at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School indicated the remains of about 215 children were on site.

Simon fears there are unmarked graves in the local cemetery and in town that await a similar discovery.

Children from across the Northwest Territories and beyond were taken to St. Joseph's residential school. Fires, illness and food shortages forced its closure in 1957, and the children were moved to another residential school in nearby Fort Smith.

Laney Beaulieu's great grandfather went to St. Joseph's Residential school. She also would like to see the former grounds searched, to discover where children may have been left behind.

Kate Kyle/CBC
Kate Kyle/CBC

"I would love it if we could use those machines here to do the same thing they did in Kamloops to see if there are remains in the area where there used to be the residential school," she said.

"I feel like it would be a good sense of closure."

The territorial government says it is willing to work with Indigenous leaders to get to the truth about what may lie underground in the territory's many former residential school locations.

In the Northwest Territories there were 14 residential schools, run by church or state. In some communities work has already been done to understand the terrible legacy left behind.

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane says she wants to work with Indigenous leaders to get to the truth, but that she would follow their lead.

For his part, the chief of the Deninu Kue First Nation in Fort Resolution said he would like to see answers, whatever they may be.

Juanita Taylor/CBC
Juanita Taylor/CBC

"I'm not sure if that really happened here," said Chief Louis Balsillie.

"It'll be something that could be investigated and we should push for it and hopefully the community can heal from that, to get it out, to say this really happened in our community instead of hearsay."

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