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ALERT BAY, B.C. — A British Columbia First Nation located off the coast of northeastern Vancouver Island says it has started an investigation on the grounds of a former residential school, looking for the remains of children who didn’t return home. 

A statement from ‘Namgis First Nation, located near Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, says its investigation into the former St. Michael’s Indian Residential School will happen in phases, starting with hiring a project manager to help the nation access funding and plan how to engage survivors.

It says survivors from 45 different nations will be invited to take part to help guide the examination of the grounds at the institution that first opened as a day school in 1878 and closed as a residential building in 1974.

The nation says a search with the same ground-penetrating radar technology used to detect what are believed to be more than 200 unmarked graves at the former school in Kamloops would happen once the initial research is complete.

It says there are plans for a commemorative monument at the site to honour children who never returned to their families after attending the school. 

The B.C. government pledged $12 million last June to help First Nations with investigative work at former residential school sites, as well as cultural and wellness supports for people affected by the findings.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website says the St. Michael’s institution was established by the Anglican Church and the federal government took over its administration in 1969, five years before it was closed.

In 1947, two dozen children ran away and a subsequent investigation into conditions led to the resignation of the principal and vice-principal, the centre says.

The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says at least 4,100 children died of neglect at the government-funded schools, which were operated by several Christian denominations. 

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021. 

The Canadian Press

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