Vancouver Archbishop apologizes, offers help as individuals raise money to find more unmarked residential school graves

A Victoria-area fundraiser has far surpassed its goal in just a day as it aims to provide local First Nations with the means to find remains of children missing from government residential schools.

Steve Sxwithultxw is one of the organizers. He told CTV News the discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 children – some as young as three years old – at a former residential school in Kamloops is being felt across Canada.

In a day, the fundraiser met and exceeded its goal of $25,000. He said the money could be used to buy a ground radar machine or to hire someone to do the work. The goal is to help any First Nation that wants it, particularly those on Vancouver Island.

"It's for our ancestors, for those lost children, our communities. We're hurting," he added.

The 'Find our lost Children' fundraiser was started in part to send a message to Ottawa, which Sxwithulttxw called 'slow' in its response to the issue of children missing after attending Indian Residential Schools.

The federal government has not taken meaningful action on the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation recommendations on finding and repatriating remains of school children who died while attending residential school.

As Ottawa vows to quickly deliver funds for the same work, the Vancouver Archdiocese that ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School is again apologizing.

A statement from Archbishop J. Michael Miller reads, in part:

“I am writing to express my deep apology and profound condolences to the families and communities that have been devastated by this horrific news … The church was unquestionably wrong in implementing a government colonialist policy which resulted in devastation for children, families and communities."

The church also committed to full transparency of documents, mental health and counselling supports for those affected by the Kamloops discovery, and technology and other help to uncover more remains in schools the church ran across B.C.

Yet Sxwithultxw says the focus for many isn't apologies from individuals or organizations across Canada, but from the Catholic Church as a whole.

"There's been no apology from the pope,” he said. “It's common sense. We shouldn't have to beg for an apology."