Ground search begins at former Chooutla school site in Yukon

As many as 42 students may have died at the former school site

A ground search for potential graves has begun at the former site of the Chooutla Indian Residential School in Carcross, Yukon.

The search will help determine if there are possible remains of children who died while attending the school.

“We need to bring the truth out, people need to know,” said Judy Gingell, vice-chair of the Yukon Residential Schools Missing Children working group which is leading the search.

“It’s not talk anymore, not planning. It’s here, it’s happening, and we’re just so grateful.”

Two schools operated in Carcross between 1911 to 1969. While the second building was torn down in 1993, the school continues to be remembered today for its dark legacy of abuse and brutality.

The former Chooutla Indian Residential School in Carcross, Yukon. Photo: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

According to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Commission (NCTR), 20 students are known to have died at both school sites.

The working group previously said its research indicates an additional 20 students likely died during the schools’ operation.

“It feels good to have it finally come to rest, and to put it behind us,” said Maria Benoit, Ḵaa Shaadé Hení (Chief) of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN).

“It’s very important to the community, to the people of the Yukon, people of northern B.C., Northwest Territories, families of the children that went to school here.”

She noted the search has also come with “mixed feelings” for some.

“Some people are anxious to find out, and some more are not sure what to do – if they do find something – what to do then?”

Ḵaa Shaadé Hení (Chief) Maria Benoit of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation said the search has brought up “mixed feelings.” Photo: Vincent Bonnay/APTN

Benoit said if remains are found, it will be up to individual families to decide what to do next, such as leaving the remains where they are or returning them to their home communities.

As for the former site, Benoit said there are various ideas in the works, including possibly turning it into a memorial garden.

“It will bring peace to the community, and that means a lot for us in the administrative field here,” she said.


Survey company GeoScan, which is leading the physical search of the site, is using GPR (Ground penetrating radar) and a magnetometer, a device that measures the earth’s magnetic field, to collect data that will eventually be used to locate potential grave sites.

While it’s not happy work for lead surveyor Peter Takacs, he said it’s work that must be done.

“We feel the weight of the work, and we really hope that we can bring closure,” he said. “But on the other hand, we have to focus on our job, to do it correctly, to do it the right way.”

Takacs said it’s unclear at this time when his team may finish their work or when they’ll have the final results.

Healing work

The working group has received just over $1 million from the territorial and federal governments to lead the search which will continue in other communities across the territory in the years to come.

While it will take time to uncover the secrets that may be buried in the community, Gingell said the ultimate hope is the work will eventually lead to healing.

“It’s going to find peace. It’s going to help us find closure for people that have gone through residential school

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