Members of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation are learning new job skills and cleaning up a site with many bad memories.

The Choutla Indian Residential School opened in 1911 on the shore of Nares Lake, at the base of Nares Mountain, a short distance from Carcross, Yukon.

The residential school closed in 1969 and re-opened in 1972 as the Carcross Community Education Centre.

The Carcross-Tagish First Nation helped tear down the building in 1993. In 2006 the First Nation took ownership of the site, when it signed its final agreement with the federal government. It's now begun a final cleanup of the property.

All that's left of the school is a big chunk of concrete, but 16 workers hired by the First Nation have collected tonnes of garbage.

Andy Carvill

Chief Andy Carvill says Yukoners will be consulted on what should be done with the school site once it's cleaned up. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

The First Nation is hiring citizens to teach them about cleaning up contaminated soil and how to reclaim the land. 

Andy Carvill, chief of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, said the workers will be able to use their new found skills on other projects.

"We're looking at other cleanups in the area in the future, so we want to have our own work force that can undertake to do these cleanups."

Archaeologists, engineers, landscapers, environmental remediation companies, herbologists and botanists, environmental monitors and others are being tapped to give expert advice to the workers.

One of those workers, Shane Schinkel, said it's a great opportunity.

"Opportunities to operate machinery, learn about dangerous materials like asbestos and lead paint and stuff like that, and, yeah, learned quite a bit actually, like remediation and reclamation," said Schinkel.

"And having these plants grow back, and we're gonna plant them here so they can have a chance to grow back and take over this land again."

Shane Schinkel

Shane Schinkel says he has lots of opportunities at the site to learn new skills. (Meagan Deuling/CBC)

The community will decide what will be done with the site once it's clean, said Carvill.

"This is a place where a lot of people lost a culture, lost a language and that, who knows, maybe there can be a building here, there can be a kind of healing camp or a ground where people can come back and start to get some of the culture and language back that they've lost,"  he said.

Schinkel doesn't want to talk about the abuse that went on at the school, but he'd like to see a park and a monument built, so people don't forget what happened here.

"It's like, kind of spiritually, you can kind of feel the land feel a lot better after you're done cleaning it up," Schinkel said.

"Healing mother earth. You can kind of feel it in the air, you know, when everything's out of the forest. It kind of feels good."

Artifacts that have been collected during the cleanup will be given to the Carcross learning centre.

Carvill said an archeologist will be on-site this fall to look at what may be unmarked graves and to classify artifacts by time period.

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to clarify when the Carcross-Tagish First Nation took ownership of the school property.
    Aug 10, 2017 12:19 PM CT
With files from Meagan Deuling