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B.C. First Nation prepares for Vatican visit

Delegates will invite Pope Francis to visit Lejac residential school, push for access to Vatican archives
Eleanor Nooski (left) and Tanya Stump at Lejac on March 17, 2022. (Photo by Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Omineca Express)

A national 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to support survivors and those affected. You can access emotional and crisis support referral services by calling 1-866-925-4419.

Eleanor Nooski and Tanya Stump are preparing to visit the Vatican as representatives from Nadleh Whut’en First Nation to call for recognition of abuses perpetrated at the Lejac Indian Residential School, the return of stolen artifacts and access to Vatican archives.

The Lejac school in northern B.C. became notorious for accounts of deaths and abuse from when it opened in 1922 until closing its doors in 1976. It was operated by the Roman Catholic Church under contract with the Canadian government.

Nooski is the culture and language coordinator for Nadleh Whut’en. She’s gathering information and piecing together the legacy of Lejac.

She said they went through “a lot of red tape” to go to the Vatican, where they will deliver a formal letter inviting Pope Francis to Lejac.

READ MORE: Nadleh Whut’en First Nation plans for unmarked grave search at Lejac residential school site

Stump is an early childhood educator and coordinator with the First Nation’s Nadleh Koh preschool. She said the Vatican visit will be a difficult but necessary one.

“It’s in no way a holiday. It’s going to be very tough and we’re carrying a lot of the history with us. It’s going to be a significant event.”

She said the Vatican has a role to play in helping Nadleh Whut’en move forward by returning archives, records and artifacts that document their culture, language and history — adding that Indigenous children from all over the north and B.C. attended the school.

“They do hold big pieces of our past — we know this. When you talk about reconciliation, actions speak louder than words. Help us put our history back together,” Stump said.

She said accessing the archives and having an ongoing dialogue with the Vatican will likely take time, over many steps.

With the uncovering of unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, sparking a national reckoning with the legacies of that system, Nadleh Whut’en is seeking to conduct ground-penetrating radar searches around the site where the Lejac school once stood.

Nooski, Stump and others are working toward acquiring the necessary experts and applying for funds from the federal government to conduct the search, which has been slow-going.

READ MORE: Family honour Mary John Sr. on Lejac residential school centennial

“I’m surprised that there hasn’t been something more concrete. This is not something we need to prove,” Stump said.

Nooski continues to work tirelessly from her office until that happens.

“We are going forward with the Lejac project — interviewing the Elders and survivors of Lejac. We are going to do a commemoration in the future but that will take a while.”

The two women agreed the bottom line with the Vatican is recognition of what happened and the role played by the church.

“It took a lot of people to set up institutions such as the Lejac residential school and there was intention behind it,” Stump said.

“We would like acknowledgements especially around the wrongdoings and all of the tremendous abuses.”

The trip is expected to take from March 28 to April 4.


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