Tseshaht First Nation elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh Ken Watts speaks at a July 1, 2021 gathering to honour the lost children whose remains are being discovered at the sites of former residential schools. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Tseshaht First Nation elected Chief Councillor Wahmeesh Ken Watts speaks at a July 1, 2021 gathering to honour the lost children whose remains are being discovered at the sites of former residential schools. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Tseshaht First Nation receives $1M for residential school research

Funding will locate and commemorate missing children from the Alberni Indian Residential School

Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni has received more than $1 million to locate and commemorate missing children from the Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS).

On Aug. 13, both the federal and provincial governments announced the funding of $1.028 million for Tseshaht First Nation to work with survivors, knowledge keepers and leaders to address the location, documentation, maintenance and commemoration of burial sites associated with the Alberni Indian Residential School, and to provide wrap-around mental health and wellness supports to community members.

This community-led process will allow Tseshaht First Nation to undertake this work in their own way and at their own pace.

The federal government will provide funding of up to $550,000 over two years (2021-2022 and 2022-2023) for the project, while the province will provide $475,000 over two years (2021-2022 and 2022-2023).

Elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts said that Tseshaht council, hawiih (hereditary chiefs) and community is committed to working with survivors to ensure that the investigation proceeds in a manner that is grounded in culture protocols and honours the voices of survivors and those who never made it home.

“Tseshaht First Nation, like all First Nations across the country, continues to feel the impacts of residential schools and the resurfaced trauma over the last few months with the growing number of confirmed unmarked graves of children at former residential school sites,” said Watts in a press release. “Like Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Tseshaht had a residential school placed within our traditional territory without our consent.”

The Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) was in operation in Tseshaht First Nation territory from 1900 to 1973.

“Tseshaht has called on the federal government and churches to address the harms caused by placing this institution in our community,” said Watts. “Today we acknowledge the funding commitments from both the federal and provincial governments to begin the important work that is necessary to take another step toward healing for our community and all those impacted by AIRS. This initial step toward reconciliation marks an important time in history. Government, churches, Indigenous leaders and society, collectively, have a responsibility to create a better future for our children and generations to come—a future where every child genuinely knows that they matter.”

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