Plans for a new cultural centre on the site of the former residential school in Lower Post were unveiled Thursday.
The federal and B.C. governments announced construction of a $13.5-million multi-purpose community centre project to replace the building at a virtual news conference attended by B.C. Premier John Horgan, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, and area Indigenous leaders.
Construction is set to start in June and expected to be complete by next year.
"The Lower Post Residential School building has been a dark cloud over our people for far too long and stood in the center of our community as a reminder of a painful past. It was the only building in our community that we could use for our government. It held our offices, our post office and it was a place that people would have to enter every day," said Deputy Chief Harlan Schilling of the Daylu Dena Council.
"Many could not enter it because of painful memories. The one torch that has been passed on from Leader to Leader was to get rid of that building and get our people a new one."
The former residential school that operated in Lower Post from 1951 to 1975 had more than 600 students at one point from B.C.'s north, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.
Miller said the new community building will include a gymnasium, industrial kitchen, office space and meeting rooms. Residential schools represent one of the "darkest shames" of Canadian history, he said.
"I hope the new building will become a joyful gathering place," Miller said.
Premier Horgan said he was moved to work with the federal government to replace the building after local elders told him during a previous visit that some people were afraid to step inside the building where they suffered abuse.
During a tour of the building in October 2019, one elder told him he was abused by school officials in the same room where the band council held its meetings. Another elder on the tour refused to come down the stairs because of past memories, said Horgan.
"I cannot stand here much longer without coming to tears by the stories I've heard," Horgan said.
Last summer, the province announced 16 supportive housing units would be built in Lower Post for women and children and for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Construction is anticipated to be complete this 2021.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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