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A search using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) at the site of the St. Bernard’s Indian Residential School near Kapawe’no First Nation has turned up 169 possible unmarked graves.
The school operated from 1872 to 1961.
In October, the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archeology from the University of Alberta used GPR and drones on half a hectare.
Researchers say they found 129 sites with probable graves, 32 possible graves, eight likely locations – 107 of these markers were found at the community cemetery.
“We do not need ground penetrating radar results to know that children did not come home from this school,” says MKisha Supernant, who is Métis and part of the university’s research team. “The knowledge of survivors and extensive archival records contain clear information about children dying here while in residency.
“The use of ground-penetrating radar and related techniques are being used to try to identify where these children are buried, including those who may not be in those records.”
Supernant says during her research she discovered that she had family who never returned home from the school.
“As someone whose family members are in the records of children who died at the school, I feel the pain of loss for people who should have been my aunties and uncles,” she says. “Each of these children was a beloved part of a family, and no one has been held accountable for their deaths.”
Kapawe’no First Nation Chief Sydney Halcrow says the community will need a lot of healing after the discovery.
“The grief we felt when discovering our fallen children has opened fresh wounds. We remember the devastation we felt when our children were forcibly removed from their families, communities, to be placed in Indian Residential Schools,” he says.
“I would like to honour all the elders, survivors who bravely shared their truths to us. Truths that were not believed or acknowledged for many many years.”
The search near the grounds will continue with a look at a nearby Anglican church, the Indian agents and Northwest Mounted Police buildings.
The community joins a dozen other First Nations across the country that are searching for children who went missing from residential schools.