What search efforts for unmarked graves at former residential school sites look like in Canada


The discovery of unmarked graves at sites of residential schools was brought to the forefront in Canada when 215 were found at a former school in Kamloops.

But where does the search for more graves stand now?

Since the original discovery, more Indigenous communities throughout the country have started their own searches, but for some, it has been proving quite a challenge.

For 12 weeks, a committee on the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan has been working to find any spots where unmarked graves could be.

“Triangulation is the process that we go through in dealing with Indigenous Services Canada’s records, the church records, and our local historical records,” said Brad Spence, who is the co-chair of the George Gordon First Nation Indian Residential School Committee.

Finding the proper equipment for land and underwater is part of the process and so is securing the proper support from community members.

“We also need out emotional safeguards in place for if and when we start our search, and if and when we find something.”

The First Nation is still weeks away from starting its search and it’s not alone. Seven Saskatchewan communities are planning searches as well as others across Canada.

“There’s an entire spectrum of work happening in this country right now,” said Ry Moran who is an associate university librarian on reconciliation at the University of Victoria.

While each search is working toward the same goal, each has its own challenges.

“For some, it’s a matter of finding technicians, some it’s a question of where do we look even for records or some of the archival materials. For others, it’s a question of where are the actual sites themselves and for others, there are questions about private land ownership.”

The federal government, along with several provincial governments have helped kick-start the search process through funding, but some say that is not enough.

“There’s still more investment needed at the First Nation level. We’re fielding calls, we’re fielding emails, and we’re getting letters from chiefs and councils that they need more investment to do the work,” said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

Even through dealing with all the challenges, the decision to keep going has never wavered.

“What would you do if this was your child? Or if this was your family member? I mean it’s just a fundamental question of justice and a fundamental question of respect,” said Moran.

Those involved in the search say it is just one step in the journey toward healing.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.

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