Lejac Residential School
Lejac Residential School was part of the Canadian residential school system and one of the 130 boarding schools for First Nations children that operated in Canada between 1874 and 1996. Operated by the Roman Catholic Church under contract with the government of Canada, construction was completed on January 17, 1922, succeeding the school opened in 1917 in Fort Saint James. It was located in an otherwise undeveloped area on the shore of Fraser Lake about half-way between the town of Fraser Lake and the village of Fort Fraser, just off the railway line. The location was about 10 km from the Indian village of Stellako at the West end of the lake (within Stellat'en First Nation territory) and the village of Nadleh at the East end of the lake (within Nadleh Whut'en First Nation territory). Although there were a few lay employees, most of the staff belonged to the Catholic Church, the men Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the women Sisters of the Child Jesus. The school was named after Father Jean-Marie Lejacq, an Oblate missionary who co-founded the mission at Fort Saint James in 1873.
Due to its location at the centre of Carrier country, the majority of students were Carrier, but Lejac also enrolled substantial numbers of students from neighbouring tribes, including the Sekani and Gitksan.
As with most other residential schools, former students have charged that they were physically and sexually abused.
After the school closed in 1976 the land was transferred to the Nadleh Indian Band and the school buildings razed. What remains at the site are the cemetery and a memorial, the site of an annual pilgrimage in honor of Rose Prince, a Carrier girl who remained to live and work at the school whom some consider a candidate for sainthood.
Death of students
As in many Canadian Indian Residential Schools (IRS), some children died while under the care of the school staff and administration. In one particularly tragic incident at the Lejac Residential School, four boys ran away on New Year's Day in 1937 and were found dead, frozen on a lake shortly thereafter. Allen Willie (age 8), Andrew Paul (age 9), Maurice Justin (age 8), and Johnny Michael (age 9) had fled the school "without caps and lightly clad" and had covered six of the seven miles to their home reserve before succumbing to the cold. It was incidents of this sort that prompted some residential school administrators to inflict harsh punishment on those who attempted to run away from their school.
- Coccola, Father Nicolas (1988) They Call Me Father: Memoirs of Father Nicola Coccola. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Edited by Margaret Whitehead.
- Fiske, Jo-Anne (1981) "And Then We Prayed Again": Carrier Women, Colonization, and Mission Schools. MA. Thesis, University of British Columbia.
- John, Mary and Bridget Moran. (1989) Stoney Creek Woman: The Story of Mary John. Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 1-55152-047-8.
- Yinka Dene Language Institute (1989) We Remember Lejac. Videotape. Vanderhoof, British Columbia: Yinka Dene Language Institute.
- Whitehead, Margaret (1988). They Call Me Father: Memoirs of Father Nicolas Coccola. UBC Press. p. 174. ISBN 0-7748-0313-4.
- Stellat'en First Nation - http://www.stellaten.ca
- Nadleh Whut'en First Nation - http://www.nadleh.ca