'We can't just sit around': Fundraiser to pay for residential school searches smashes goal
VICTORIA -- After the disturbing discovery of the bodies of 215 children on the property of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, First Nation communities are now calling on the government to search the grounds of other residential school sites.
"They have to help us do the research here to determine if we have unmarked graves,” said Chief Councillor Ken Watts of the Tseshaht First Nation.
That prompted a group of three to start a GoFundMe page in order to pay to search locations on Vancouver Island. Their goal was $25,000.
"I just checked moments ago and it was over $32,000,” said Steve Sxwithul’txw, co-founder of the fundraising page.
That interview was at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. By 5 p.m., it had grown to $40,000.
"We can't just sit around, we've done enough of that,” said Sxwithul’txw. “It's been confirmed, there's bodies right across the country at all of these sites, I'm sure, and sitting around and not doing anything is the last thing we should be doing."
The group says it is willing to work with any First Nation community that wants to work with them, or any professionals.
"In total, we've located about 800 unmarked graves,” said Mike Cooper, senior locator at ScanPlus.
In the last five years, the Sooke company - which offers ground-penetrating radar - has worked with three different First Nation communities, locating unmarked and often forgotten graves.
"Due to the passage of time, or by accident, grave markers have been removed and then what we do is we go in with this machine and we can locate unmarked graves,” said Cooper.
The fundraising group acknowledges government funding could be coming at some point, but wants to get started now and will consider searching sites off the island as well.
"(If) we, let's say hypothetically, get a larger amount and we are able to do that, we're going to make sure that this gets done and scan those lands where those other residential schools are,” said Sxwithul’txw.