By Melinda Munson

The municipality is accepting bids for an archeological assessment of Garden City RV Park, the former site of the Saint Pius X Mission. The borough purchased the property in 2013 from the Catholic Diocese.

The St. Pius boarding school educated mostly Alaska Native children from 1932 to 1959. The assessment is being done at the request of the Skagway Traditional Council (STC), which notes a lack of enrollment records.

One record that is available, is a letter dated Aug. 21, 2019 from the Diocese of Juneau, obtained by KHNS (see documents on page 2). The document lists seven men “who have been determined by the diocese’ independent commission to have credible evidence of sexual misocinduct involving minors and vulnerable adults.” The first name is Francis A. Cowgill, who served at Pius X from 1952-1959 as assistant priest. 

He is listed as having allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors from 1956-1964.

Jaime Bricker, president of STC, says she has not personally heard anyone make accusations against Cowgill. She described the commission’s findings as “grotesque” and “devastating.”

“I think it’s important to remember that although there may be some positive history (at the school), there’s also some negative experiences and negative history, and it’s documented … There are documented cases of abuse and atrocities and that’s difficult to argue with,” she said.

Sara Kinjo-Hischer, STC tribal administrator, is tasked with locating students who attended Pius X and collecting records. She said an archeological assessment which includes ground penetrating radar will bring “peace of mind” after over 1,000 bodies have been found at religious boarding schools for Native children across Canada and in some areas of the United States.

In the latest case, 93 potential grave sites were identified at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia. St. Joseph’s was served by the Sisters of St. Ann, the same order that assisted founder Father G. Edgar Gallant at St. Pius. 

The borough will work with STC throughout the assessment process. The council offered to pay some of the costs and asked that a portion of the land be gifted to Skagway Village as acknowledgement of cultural harm.

The municipality hopes to have the assessment completed in time to make repairs to Garden City RV to support another few seasons of independent travellers in RVs. 

Borough Manager Brad Ryan assured the construction at Garden City “would only be completed after investigations for cultural significance cleared an area for development.”

The bid period closes Feb. 1