RCMP are launching an investigation today into an allegation that a young girl was murdered at a United Church residential school for Indians on Vancouver Island 50 years ago.
Art Anderson, an official with the United Church, said Sunday that police were notified of the allegation as soon as the church learned of it.
Rev. Kevin McNamee-Annett, a former United Church minister for the Alberni area, reported the allegation to the current minister Thursday. On Friday, both McNamee-Annett and the church lawyer reported it to the police.
"We are uncertain what this means, but we have to treat it seriously," Anderson said. "As of tomorrow, the police will be beginning an investigation."
The investigation was triggered by a statement from a North Vancouver woman who told McNamee-Annett she was nearby when a six-year-old girl was kicked down some stairs and died.
Harriet Nahanee, 60, is the first witness to come forward to support recent allegations about killings at residential schools on the island.
In another case, a boy is said to have bled to death after he was beaten as punishment for breaking a jar at the school in Ahousaht in the 1940s.
Reports of sexual and physical assaults at the Port Alberni area schools sparked a province-wide investigation of residential schools by an RCMP task force. It has been gathering evidence for about one year.
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Nahanee said she can't remember the girl's name but she knows that she came from Nitinat Lake and her father's name was Blackie.
"I remember her from Nitinat Lake", she said. "Every so often her name comes to me and I can see her face."
Nahanee said the girl died in 1946, when Nahanee was 11 years old. But the memory is still painful enough that she cried throughout the telling.
"I was at the bottom of the stairs in the basement", she said. " I always went to the bottom of the stairs to sit and cry."
"I heard her crying, she was looking for her mother. I heard [the school administrator] yelling at the supervisor for letting the child run around on the stairwell.
"I heard him kick her and she fell down the stairs. I went to look--her eyes were open, she wasn't moving. They didn't even come down the stairs. They were arguing at the top of the stairs."
"I never saw her again."
Nahanee said the other students later told her the girl had died and her body had been sent back to Nitinat Lake.
Nahanee told the other children what she had heard. She told her mother and many of the elders in her tribe. But nobody believed her, the woman said. She didn't trust the RCMP so she didn't report it to them.
Rev. A.E. Caldwell, a United Church minister, was head of the school for the first four years Nahanee lived there. She alleges he regularly sexually assaulted her in the infirmary.
In a written statement which has been forwarded to the RCMP task force, Nahanee says she was taken every week to the infirmary where either Caldwell or the boys supervisor, a Mr. Peake, would force her to perform oral sex.
Nahanee said she believes other deaths, which at the time the church said were the result of exposure when students tried to run away, were really caused by beatings in the school barn.
The woman still has nightmares about the killing and lives with rage and shame resulting from her treatment.
"I would love to be free of the shame--to leave all that behind me and have some pride in myself."