Ground searches at two former Whitehorse residential school sites begin this week

The Yukon Residential School and Missing Children Project at the September 26 update on the Choutla Residential School ground search. (Photo: S. Bonell)

WARNING: This article contains information that could be distressing to some readers.

The Yukon Residential School Missing Children Project is overseeing ground searches at two former residential school sites in Whitehorse.

A joint media release from Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nation announced ground search efforts at two parcels of land in Riverdale: Yukon Hall, a non-denominational, church-operated residence; and Coudert Hall, the former Whitehorse Roman Catholic Indian Hostel. Yukon Hall was claimed as a Kwanlin Dün First Nation settlement land, and Coudert Hall was similarly claimed for Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.

Much like the ground search at Choutla Residential School in Carcross and other residential ground searches across Canada, the work in Whitehorse will use ground penetrating radar technology to detect anomalies. However, as noted by GeoScan’s Brian Whiting at a media conference last September, the findings of geophysics and ground-penetrating-radar cannot guarantee whether potential grave sites contain human remains.

On September 26, KnowHistory and GeoScan representatives discussed their investigations at Chooutla Residential School. KnowHistory’s team of historians identified 33 documented deaths of children at the school, while GeoScan found 15 potential grave sites during two weeks of field work.

The Whitehorse ground search is scheduled to begin April 22 and continue until May 4. During this two-week period, both Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nation have asked all individuals, including the public, not to visit these sites or disrupt the crews while they work.

“This search effort marks an important chapter for Yukon First Nations, not just here in Whitehorse, but for all Yukon families who lost a child, many still unaccounted for, during the residential school system era.” said Ta’an Kwäch’än Council Chief Amanda Leas in the release. “It is our hope these efforts may help Yukon families, Ta’an members included, who may have suffered unfathomable abuse while residing in the dorms and hostels that once operated on these sites.”

“In Whitehorse, many of my people from Kwanlin Dün and others stayed at Yukon Hall and Coudert Hall in Whitehorse, Yukon,” said Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Sean Smith.  “This search will allow for the beginning of healing for KDFN and TKC Citizens who attended schools in Whitehorse.”

“When we face truths of what happened in those institutions and acknowledge their stories, then healing can begin.”

Anyone with information about residential schools in the Yukon are asked to share their story with the Yukon Residential School and Missing Children Project online at www.yrsmcp.com.

Support is also available through the 24-hour Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419

 

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