Statement regarding graves associated with the Kamloops Indian Residential School

29 May 2021

UPDATED: June 24, 2021

[Content Warning: This statement discusses child death; residential schools; colonialism; genocide; generational trauma] 

The Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology (IPIA) at the University of Alberta was devastated at the news that many graves of children who went missing at the Kamloops Indian residential school have been located. Our hearts are with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, especially the families of those children and their relatives across the lands we currently call Canada. The news from Cowessess about hundreds of unmarked graves near the Marieval Indian Residential School reinforces the scope and scale of loss associated with the residential school system, and our hearts are with survivors and families who lost relatives at Marieval. These discoveries are a painful reminder of the ongoing legacy of residential schools and the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous peoples. However, truth must be told before reconciliation is possible. Historical records and family stories indicate that every school had children who died or went missing, some of whom were buried in marked cemetery locations and others who were buried in more illicit circumstances. There are thousands of children whose burial locations remain unmarked and often unknown.

At IPIA, we recognize the important role archaeological techniques and historical research can play in supporting communities to locate where their missing children might be buried. We are an Indigenous-led institute and have expertise in using various remote sensing technologies (including ground-penetrating radar and drone mounted sensors) in burial contexts across the prairie provinces. We also have connected to historians with experience in archival research to help refine remote sensing surveys.

Remote-sensing technologies are non-invasive and designed to show possible locations where graves were dug into the soil; no excavation or ground disturbance is involved. We invite communities to reach out to us for advice on how best to approach the surveys around their schools, or with their concerns about work having been done in the past in the hopes we may provide additional information and help navigating these emotional contexts. It is essential that we use the most effective methods in locating these possible burials to ensure that communities are receiving as accurate information as can be provided, while doing the work with deep care, respect, and attention to this complex and difficult task. We can provide advice and support Indigenous communities in Alberta who might wish to partner with us in an application to the Alberta Residential Schools Community Research Grant. 

For more information, please contact our Director, Dr. Kisha Supernant (Métis) or 780-248-2082

Indian Residential School Survivors 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419