Yukon First Nation leader calls for ground search of Carcross residential school

·3 min read
Adeline Webber, president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women's Circle, says the grounds of the Choutla residential school in Carcross should be searched for unmarked graves. Her brother, Alberta Jackson, died at the school. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)
Adeline Webber, president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women's Circle, says the grounds of the Choutla residential school in Carcross should be searched for unmarked graves. Her brother, Alberta Jackson, died at the school. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC - image credit)

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

The grounds of a former residential school in Carcross need to be searched for unmarked graves of Indigenous children, according to the president of the Whitehorse Aboriginal Women's Circle.

"Not only just to find them, but to acknowledge that they were there, that they mattered," said Adeline Webber, whose brother, Albert Jackson, died at Carcross' Choutla Indian Residential School.

Last week, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School uncovered the remains of 215 children.

The discovery has spurred calls across the country for similar investigations, conducted by using a ground penetrating radar system.

Flags have been flying at half-mast all week on government buildings in Whitehorse, and people took to the streets earlier in the week to express their solidarity with residential school survivors and their families.

According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, the federal government built the Choutla residential school in 1911. It didn't close until 1969. The archive states the school "had a reputation for poor health, harsh discipline and unpleasant living quarters."

Webber suspects her brother is buried at the site — but it's never been confirmed by the church that ran the school.

She said Jackson was taken away from his family between the ages of five and six.

Webber said he died at the school around 1942, noting that her mother wasn't informed of his death until a year later.

A view of the Choutla Residential School. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says the school had a reputation for poor health, harsh discipline, poor food, and unpleasant living.
A view of the Choutla Residential School. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says the school had a reputation for poor health, harsh discipline, poor food, and unpleasant living.(National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Archives)

"Today, I wanted to talk to you and do this interview, so that I could give voice to my mother and other mothers who have experienced this horrific experience of losing their children and not knowing when or where they're buried," said Webber, who attended residential school herself in Whitehorse.

"Him and other children, they died alone."

Webber said so many families want closure right now. The same is true for her.

"We could at least put a marker, and put a little marker on our family plot in Teslin, with my mother and brothers and my sisters," she said.

'Just piecemeal dollars'

The federal government announced that $27 million will eventually be available for communities to conduct similar searches.

Webber said this isn't enough.

Webber said the discovery in Kamloops has reopened old wounds for many people. Governments can help by doubling down on mental health spending, she said.

"I think there's so much more work that has to be done, not just to acknowledge the whole residential school experience, but to help people in their healing, and not in just piecemeal ways," Webber said.

Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) 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. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason.

In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.

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