A black-and-white photo of children in sitting room of Alberni Residential School
Photo Credit: The Children Remembered

If the Tseshaht Find Buried Children, Who Will Be Held Accountable for Their Deaths?

Thousands of dead children found, but no moves to charge suspects

Justice delayed is justice denied

The Tseshaht First Nation have begun their own search for unmarked graves and burial sites at the Alberni Indian Residential School.

They’ll use ground scanning radar, the same technology used to uncover 215 unmarked graves at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Residential School last year.

The graves near Kamloops spurred on other searches. The searches have uncovered thousands of potential unmarked graves and burial sites across Canada. The investigation in Port Alberni will more than likely add to the list.

Wahmeesh, Ken Watts, is the elected chief of Tseshaht. He told APTN News they are searching to make sure children who never got the chance to tell their stories get a chance to be heard and validated one last time.

“It’s really for them, it’s really to justify what they have been saying all along, as children we grew up, we heard about these stories, and many of the survivors’ children or survivors have always talked these stories about the children who didn’t make it home for various reasons,” he said.

The real question, though, is what happens after their search is over? What happens if and when they find buried children?

Will Canadian governments finally wake up and hold perpetrators to account?

The Alberni Indian Residential School was first run by the Presbyterian Church, then the United Church of Canada and Indian Affairs all the way up until the 1970s.

But who are the individuals who were responsible for the deaths of any children they find? Will they be investigated? Will they be prosecuted?

Rose LeMay is the CEO of the Indigenous Reconciliation Group. “There were some reasons perhaps why it didn’t occur back in 2013/2014 when we were leading up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s final report. There seemed to be some reticence at that point. But I’m not entirely sure that there was ever a good reason not to do criminal prosecution,” she told CTV’s Your Morning.

Federal and provincial governments have offered up apologies. So has the Catholic Church. But since when has an apology been considered fair after someone has committed an atrocity?

Did we accept apologies from World War II criminals?

Or, did we prosecute and hold them accountable for their actions?

Also, why are people having to fundraise to conduct these investigations in the first place?

Residential schools, and everything that occurred within them, can safely be called the biggest atrocity ever committed in Canadian history.

So where is the public funding for criminal investigations?

So far, no one has been formally charged for these crimes. Why is no one being held accountable?

These buried children died as part of a genocide and we are simply saying “sorry.”

That’s not good enough. We have been collectively ignoring this for generations.

These travesties are too significant to be absolved by the latest apology of the week from Ottawa.

Indigenous folks aren’t the only ones who knew some kids never came back from residential schools. Some non-Indigenous Canadians knew, too. And the people who ran the schools certainly did.

The shame of residential schools has stared us in the face for generations.

We ignored it.

Why now, even with new evidence of these horrific crimes, are we still doing nothing?

“I shared with the special interlocutory that has been appointed that at the end of the day, there needs to be justice,” Wahmeesh said. “There needs proper investigations, independent investigations; the RCMP should not be investigating themselves in their matter whenever it moves to stage wherever it may happen.”

These children endured terrible treatment at the hands of people who, in many cases, are very much alive. These people must answer for their actions. The buried children and their loved ones deserve justice.

“This [the investigation] is going to help solidify what they [residential school survivors] have been saying for a long time. We consider this a sacred responsibility to do this to help them get the answers,” said Wahmeesh.

Once we have the answers, though, what are we doing with them?