Media FAQ

How do I find out who is working at a particular school?
The IPIA does not lead any projects related to residential schools. All work is led by Indigenous communities. Often, the community who is closest in proximity to a particular school will lead the project, though this is not always the case. We highly encourage all media outlets to contact the community leading the work directly for any updates or information on a specific project, as we will reject any media request relating to a specific project that does not have explicit community approval. If you are interested in finding out which Nations are taking the lead on which schools in Alberta, the first point of inquiry would be at the Treaty Administration level. In Alberta, this would include Treaty 6, Treaty 7, Treaty 8, and the MNA.
How do I find out about the results of a survey done at a particular school?
Since the IPIA works at the request of Nations, we always defer to the community when it comes to sharing any information about work that is planned, being done, or has been completed. It is not our place to discuss any details of our work without the Nation's involvement, nor to confirm our involvement with any particular school. The IPIA can talk about the general nature of GPR work and can discuss some aspects of work that has already been publicized by Nations, but we will not be the source of any new information regarding work being done at residential schools. We highly encourage all media outlets to contact the community leading the work directly for any updates or information on a specific project, as we will reject any media request relating to a specific project that does not have explicit community approval.
How many unmarked graves are there?

The question of "How Many?" does not have a simple answer for a few reasons. Many of the numbers that are circulated around through media and other avenues are a conglomerate from different resources, including those reported by the NCTR, and those identified through remote sensing surveys. However, these represent two different types of data, and should not be compared or conflated with each other. 

First, there is the Student Memorial Register through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which lists students that were recorded to have passed away or 'disappeared' from Residential Schools. This document is a work in progress and the number is expected to keep rising as more archival records are examined. However, the NCTR memorial only contains students who attended IRS and who were recorded as having died there. It does not include students or children who died while attending day schools, non-IRS schools, or other institutions like hospitals (all of which played a similar role to IRS schools), nor does it include children who may have died without any record of their death. A link to the NCTR Memorial Register FAQ is found here. This is currently the most reliable source of numbers related to children who died at the school.

Additionally, we know from Survivor testimony that the NCTR register estimates are a significant underestimate, as this register only lists recorded deaths. It is unlikely the records provide a full picture, and in our experience the records often just drop student records, lists them as 'transferred' (which often means that they died at a hospital or other institution as a result of injuries or neglect at the IRS), or only records when the school gave back the students belongings to the family instead of recording a death. Additionally, of all the records the NCTR holds, only a fraction have been examined (about ⅓ of all records), and the NCTR continues this work to date.

The numbers listed on the Memorial List and the number of reported burials from remote sensing surveys should not be carelessly grouped together, as some of the reported burials may be associated with names and individuals on the NCTR Memorial List, which can cause duplication in some instances. But there is currently no way to tell how many of the graves reported are associated with the students listed on the Memorial register, nor is it possible to attribute a particular burial to a specific child without forensic investigation since the graves themselves are unmarked. Many of the reports on unmarked graves are from cemeteries, so some of the graves may be of adults who were buried in those cemeteries, in addition to children who died while attending an IRS. 

Lastly, we at the IPIA believe that numbers are irrelevant to the research. When we number graves, or focus on a count, it depersonalizes the circumstances and distracts people from the fact that these are individuals, children, who died under the care of 'trusted' officials and have been buried in a location that is unknown to their relatives and loved ones, often miles away from their home. One unmarked grave is too many. One death of a child at a residential school is a tragedy. While we understand that from a media perspective numbers can catch attention, we hope moving forward that more people will understand the gravity of this, and shy away from making this a "numbers game".
What is remote sensing?
Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about objects or areas from a distance and includes airborne (e.g. drone or satellite) and ground-based (e.g. ground-penetrating radar) approaches. The most common techniques used in grave detection are ground-based, in a discipline known as geophysics. Since not every remote sensing technique will work in every landscape, there are a few other techniques that can be used alongside or instead of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) including electric resistivity, multi-spectral imagery or photogrammetry, conductivity, and magnetometry.
Are remote sensing surveys necessary?
Remote sensing surveys (e.g., GPR) are not necessary to know that children went missing in Indian Residential School contexts. This fact has been known by Indigenous communities for generations, and has been nationally recognized through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the truth of Survivors, their families, communities, and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience. The history and events were summarized in a series of comprehensive reports on the policies and operations of the schools and their lasting impacts. The final report included Ten Principles for Reconciliation and 94 Calls to Action that speak to all sectors of Canadian society. Remote sensing is not a way to confirm where or not these atrocities actually happened, but is instead a way to address Calls to Action 71-76, which specifically address missing children and burial information.
Do geophysical survey techniques disturb the burial?
No. In much the same way as navigational radar locates objects at a distance, archaeologists use geophysical survey techniques to see what is below the ground without needing to excavate, so there is no disturbance to the grave or surrounding area during a GPR survey. The only disturbance to the landscape may be the clearing of brush or other obstacles so that the machine can be dragged along the ground's surface.
Can GPR see bones?
No, GPR is not an X-Ray. The typical GPR frequencies used in cemetery investigations will not be able to see bones or other remains underneath the surface of the ground. It only detects anomalies that may show the outline of a pit or grave shaft that was dug by measuring the physical properties of the soil.
Will GPR always work?
No. Sometimes, the results of a GPR survey can be confusing, or provide no answers. This does not necessarily mean there are no unmarked graves in an area, but could mean that the technique just wasn’t successful at finding the locations of unmarked graves in a particular landscape. In this case, other techniques could be used to reinvestigate the area, which may have better results.
If the GPR survey indicates that there may be grave shafts in an area, does that mean there is a grave there?
There is no way to determine the presence or absence of graves with 100% certainty when using GPR. What is found through GPR or remote sensing surveys are anomalies that are consistent with what graves are expected to look like in a subsurface environment. Good researchers will assign different levels of confidence to the survey results in much the same way as a weather forecaster predicts the likelihood of rain. The addition of oral histories, Survivor testimony, archival research, or other remote sensing technologies can increase the confidence of the researcher to determine whether or not burials are present in a location. Often, the combination of oral history, Survivor testimony, archival research, and remote sensing is enough to be sufficiently confident in the location of unmarked graves. However, the only way to be 100% certain that there are unmarked graves in an area is to excavate, which some communities may prefer not to do. Please note, a negative result from a remote sensing survey does not mean that there are no graves in a particular location, it only means that further analysis or study is needed to confirm, especially if Survivor testimony, oral history, or archival research suggests otherwise.

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