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Canadian Indian residential school gravesites

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The Canadian Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. Directed and funded by the Department of Indian Affairs, and administered mainly by Christian churches, the residential school system removed and isolated Indigenous children from the influence of their own native culture and religion in order to forcefully assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture. Given that most of them were established by Christian missionaries with the express purpose of converting Indigenous children to Christianity, schools often had nearby mission churches with community cemeteries. Students were often buried in these cemeteries rather than being sent back to their home communities, since the school was expected by the Department of Indian Affairs to keep costs as low as possible. Additionally, occasional outbreaks of disease led to the creation of mass graves when the school had insufficient staff to bury students individually.[1]

An unknown number of students died while attending the Canadian Indian residential school system.[2][3] Comparatively few cemeteries associated with residential schools are explicitly referenced in surviving documents; however, the age and duration of the schools suggests that most had a cemetery associated with them.[1] Most cemeteries were unregistered, and as such the locations of many burial sites of residential school children have been lost. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has called for "the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries or other sites at which residential school children were buried."[4]

Bodies, unmarked graves, and potential burial sites have been identified near residential school sites across Canada since the 1970s, mainly using ground-penetrating radar. To date, the sites of unmarked graves are estimated to hold the remains of more than 1,900 previously unaccounted individuals, mostly children.[citation needed] However, across the entire residential school system, the number of identifiable children who are documented as having died while in their custody is over 4,100 individuals; the fourth volume of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) "identified 3,200 deaths on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Register of Confirmed Deaths of Named Residential School Students and the Register of Confirmed Deaths of Unnamed Residential School Students".[4] The issue of unmarked graves gained renewed attention after an anthropologist detected ground disturbances on radar at Kamloops Indian Residential School in May 2021, and concluded that these were 215 "probable burials" (this number was later revised to 200).[5][6] Several similar announcements followed over the ensuing months, leading to commemorations and protests, followed by a series of arsons against Christian buildings and the 2022 "penitential" visit to Canada by Pope Francis.

Some politicians and journalists[7] have openly denied the existence of some or all residential school burial sites.[8] Indigenous groups[7] and academics[9] have dismissed such denials, with Canadian state media columnists opining that "[t]here is no big lie or deliberate hoax", but is instead "the complicated nature of what the TRC calls the 'complex truth'".[8] The Department of Justice has considered action to criminalize these denials.[7][10]


The Canadian Indian residential school system was a network of boarding and day schools for Indigenous children funded by the Canadian government, and administered by Catholic and Anglican churches across the country. It was created to remove and isolate Indigenous children and forcefully assimilate them into Canadian society,[11][12][13] in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2015 called a 'cultural genocide.'[14]

The residential school system ran for over 120 years; the last school closed in 1997. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report confirmed it had found records of 3,201 deaths at the schools, mostly from disease. Particularly deadly was tuberculosis, of which there were repeated outbreaks in the early 20th Century. School were often under-resourced, and could not effectively prevent or treat the disease.[15] The Bureau of Indian affairs made a policy decision not to return the children's bodies to their families, citing cost, and frequently didn't notify them of their deaths either.[15] Murray Siclair, who chaired the Commission, speculated that the true number of deaths could be anywhere between 6,000 and 25,000.[16][2][3] Some of the students who died at the schools were buried in graveyards on the school grounds, or nearby.[17][better source needed] Over time, some graveyard markers were lost or destroyed, though the graves may still be attested to in governmental records and Indigenous memory.[18]

Investigations of potential unmarked gravesites


Charles Camsell Hospital

Charles Camsell Hospital, the largest Indian Hospital built, served as a tuberculosis treatment centre for Indigenous children in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Patients came from all across Alberta and northern Canada.[19] The site was closed and abandoned in 1996, then rezoned to allow construction of new residential properties.[20] While early development was in progress, Michel First Nation petitioned for a halt to construction so that more searching could be conducted. Architect and owner of the site Gene Dub agreed and funded a ground-penetrating radar search and continuous with further digging on the grounds in the summer of 2021.[21] Initial GPR reports pointed to some anomalies.[22]

in October 2021, crews completed 34 excavations on the former hospital grounds. No human remains were found.[23] No further searches were planned. The site was scheduled for the construction of residential condos. Gene Dub paid more than $200,000 for the search.[24][23]


On March 1, 2022, the Kapawe'no First Nation announced the results of a search of 3696.5m2 at the site of St. Bernard's Residential School conducted in by the Institute Prairie and Indigenous Archeology from the University of Alberta that used ground-penetrating radar and multi-spectral imagery captured by drone. It found 169[25][26] potential gravesites that researchers subdivided into three categories:[27]

  • Possible: 32
  • Probable: 129
  • Likely: 8

The next step for the likely graves would be to exhume.[27] The nation announced plans to search further based on the testimony of residential school students, including at a nearby Anglican church and a site where Indian agents and the North-West Mounted Police had structures.[26]

Saddle Lake

Since 2004, partial remains have been repeatedly discovered while digging new graves in the Saddle Lake Cree Nation community cemetery, located near the former site of the Blue Quills Indian Residential School. At the time, the remains were re-interred upon discovery, but investigators undertaking the nation's efforts to discover unmarked graves on their territory announced on May 17, 2022, that they believed those accidentally excavated remains were the remains of children who died at residential school.[28] The investigators believe that the discoveries include a mass grave, where they found "numerous children-sized skeletons wrapped in white cloth," theorizing that the potential mass grave could have been from a typhoid outbreak at the school. In an effort to prevent further accidental excavations, the nation has requested funding to acquire ground-penetrating radar equipment and carry out a non-invasive survey.[29]

A report released in January 2023 said that the presumed mass grave had been confirmed by ground-penetrating radar.[30]

An later report in April 2023 announced that an investigation of the site using ground-penetrating radar and drone imagery found 19 anomalies which might be gravesites. The Nation intends to use these findings as a starting point for further investigation.[31]

St. Bruno's

In June 2022, the Institute for Prairie Indigenous Archaeology (PIA) led a preliminary ground-penetrating radar search of the former site of St. Bruno's Indian Residential School, which covered the cemetery, root cellars, and some areas of the school yard, 1.8 acres in total. Based on that search, a report released by a group of Treaty 8 chiefs and the University of Alberta in June 2023 announced the identification of 88 "potential unmarked graves", with 14 of those listed as "likely", meaning that the sites have multiple indicators that point to them being graves.[32]

St. Joseph's Industrial School (Dunbow Industrial School)

In 1996, a flood eroded the banks of the Highwood River, exposing the caskets and remains of some of the 72 children known to have died while attending Dunbow Industrial School, also referred to as St. Joseph's.[33] In May 2001, the remains of 34 children were identified and re-interred at a site further from the river following First Nations, Métis, and Christian traditions. Since then, local resident Laurie Sommerville has obtained school records from the Missionary Oblates,[33] and worked on identifying the deceased children; she had identified 27 as of May 2013.[34][35]

During the school's 38 years of operated for 38 years, one in six of the 430 total students died.[33] Most were Siksika, or TsuuT'ina (then known as Blackfoot and Sarcee).[33] One child's school records notes that she would have made a good servant girl."[33]

British Columbia


At Alberni Indian Residential School [de] on February 21, 2023 Ground-penetrating radar found 17 suspected graves, and interviews with survivors identified 67 students who had died at AIRS.[36][37] First run by Presbyterians, then later by the United Church, and eventually by the Canadian government. While malnutrition was rampant at almost all residential schools, at Alberni milk and dental care were deliberately withheld for two years from some children by researchers studying the effects of malnutrition. Records researched by the TRC that 29 children had died at the school, but the band was able to eliminate five of those names through its own records.[38]


In August 2021, Tseshaht First Nation announced it would conduct a search for graves around the site of the former Alberni Indian Residential School (AIRS) building.[39][40] As of December 2021, the Nation had secured over $1 million to undertake research and scanning of the site and developed a research framework, with a goal to do an initial GPR scan in the spring of 2022.[41] The search began in earnest in July 2022.[42] The Nation released "phase one" of their findings at an event on February 21, 2023. These findings were the result of research involving a ground-penetrating radar survey of just over 10% of the area around former school site that was identified for investigation,[37] as well as historical research which included interviewing survivors. The findings showed 17 suspected[37] gravesites on the property, and indicated that a total of 67 students had died during their time at AIRS, over twice the number reported by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The Nation called on the federal government to provide funding to complete the search, and plans to contact family members of those dead students that can be identified, as well as eventually holding a ceremony to tear the old school building down.[36][37]


Kamloops Residential School in 1920

In 2021, Sarah Beaulieu, an anthropologist experienced at searching for historical gravesites,[6] surveyed the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School on the lands of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation with ground-penetrating radar and observed "disruptions in the ground" which she concluded could be 200 unmarked graves, based on "their placement, size, depth, and other features"[43][6] though "only forensic investigation with excavation" would confirm if these were actually human remains.[44] As of May 2022, the nation had assembled a team of technical archaeologists and professors as they continue their investigation of the site, which Chief Rosanne Casimir described as an ongoing process from "exhumation to memorialization."[45] As of May 2024, investigations into the reported mass graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia have ended with no conclusive evidence of such graves.[46] Despite significant resources invested in various investigative efforts, including fieldwork, archival searches, and securing the school site, no human remains have been found. Carolane Gratton, spokesperson for the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations confirmed the allocation of $7.9 million for these endeavors. In a statement, the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation reiterated their focus on the scientific work required but declined to discuss the $7.9 million allocation.[47]


On June 30, 2021, the leadership of ʔaq̓am, a member of the Ktunaxa Nation, announced that 182 unmarked grave sites had been identified in a cemetery in their community next to the site of the former St. Eugene's Mission Residential School.[48] Over 5,000 children attended the school between 1912 and 1970.[49]

During remedial work around the cemetery in 2020, workers came upon an "unknown and unmarked grave", and use ground-penetrating radar to identify additional unmarked graves.[clarification needed] The original graves were marked with wooden crosses, which eventually burned or rotted away, resulting in the unmarked graves.[50]

The graveyard dates to 1865, before the school was built, and has been used continuously for burials by the local settler and indigenous community, including St. Eugene Hospital, which operated from 1874 to 1899. The residential school was in operation from 1912 to 1970. It is "extremely difficult to establish whether or not these unmarked graves contain the remains of children who attended the St. Eugene Residential School", said a press release from the band.[50]

Kuper Island

In 2018, Penelakut Chief and Council and Elders' Committee met with researchers from the University of British Columbia to discuss a possible survey of the grounds of the former Kuper Island Indian Residential school for unmarked graves using GPR. This work would build on previous GPR surveys conducted in known cemeteries in the community in 2014 and 2016.[51] In a memo sent to band members on July 8, 2021,[52] Chief Joan Brown of the Penelakut First Nation made reference to the discovery of at least 160 "undocumented and unmarked" graves located on the grounds of the former school, off Vancouver Island.[53] The memo was circulated in national media coverage on July 12.[52] It is unclear whether the number referred to new findings.[52] The school, referred to as "Canada's Alcatraz", was operated on the remote Penelakut Island (formerly Kuper Island) from 1889 to 1969 by the Catholic Church, and from 1969 to 1975 by the federal government.[54]

St. Augustine's

On April 20, 2023, the shíshálh Nation announced the discovery of 40 unmarked children's graves near the site of the former St. Augustine's Indian Residential School in Sechelt, BC, "shallow graves, only large enough for the young bodies to lay in the fetal position."[55] The investigation made use of ground-penetrating radar and historical research, including interviews with survivors.[56][57]

“These children were our aunties, they were our uncles, they were our future leaders that we never met,” the chief said in a statement. “They never grew up and decades later, they are still lost children.” [58]

Williams Lake

In June 2021, a search was announced of the site of Saint Joseph's Mission (Williams Lake) near Williams Lake, led by the Williams Lake First Nation, using ground-penetrating radar, and focusing on 0.15 square kilometres of the 4.5 square kilometre site. Work began in late August 2021.[59][39][60] On January 25, 2022, the chief of Williams Lake First Nations announced that 93 potential burial sites were discovered.[61]

The investigation continued, and on January 24, 2023, the Nation announced that it had come to the conclusion that at least 28 children had died while students of the school, as opposed to the 16 reported by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. The announcement also identified 66 more potential burial sites, for a total of 159, identified using GPR and aerial and terrestrial LiDAR. The Nation also announced that it was working with the B.C. Coroner's Service and attorney general to create a memorandum of understanding that would allow them to proceed with further work to confirm the potential gravesites, using small probes and DNA testing.[62]



Brandon Residential School in 1920

Beginning in 2012, a team from the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Simon Fraser University investigated two cemetery sites at Brandon Indian Residential School in Brandon. The project, which received funding for its work in April 2019, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[63][64] In addition to two previously known cemeteries, the project found a possible third burial site.[65] On June 4, 2021, it was announced that 104 potential graves had been located, of which 78 are accountable through historical records.[63][66]

Fort Alexander

As of late July 2021, the Sagkeeng First Nation had begun a search of the former site of Fort Alexander Indian Residential School, near Powerview-Pine Falls in Manitoba. The search made use of drone surveying and ground-penetrating radar.[67] On June 6, 2022, the Nation announced they had identified 190 "anomalies" in the ground during the search: 137 in one area and 53 in another. The anomalies were not found at the site of the residential school. Having ruled out pipelines, sewer lines, and waterlines, work continued following the announcement to determine whether the anomalies were gravesites.[68]

Pine Creek

On May 9, 2022, the Minegoziibe Anishinabe, formerly known as Pine Creek First Nation, began a ground-penetrating radar scan on the former site of Pine Creek Indian Residential School, through its contractor AltoMaxsix.[69] A preliminary report in June 2022 announced the discovery of six anomalies on the site.[70] In August, 14 more had been found. The RCMP began an investigation in October 2022 of 71 ground anomalies identified in five scans of a 100-acre area around the site of the residential school, and around and underneath a Catholic church.[71]

The community held a day of ceremony on July 24, 2023, to mark the beginning of an archaeological dig in the church basement, where 14 anomalies had been found. The excavation found no evidence of human remains.[72] and the RCMP's investigation found no evidence of criminal activity.[73]

Sandy Bay

A search at the site of the former Sandy Bay Residential School on Sandy Bay First Nation in May 2022 used ground-penetrating radar and drone imagery to identify 13 potential unmarked gravesites. Four were determined to have a "moderate probability" of being an unmarked grave and nine sites were assessed as "low probability". Further steps had not been decided by the community as of May 29, 2022.[74]

Northwest Territories

Fort Providence

From 1992 to 1994 Albert Lafferty, a Métis resident of Fort Providence, Northwest Territories led research at the old community cemetery near the former Sacred Heart Mission School operated by the Grey Nuns from 1867 to 1960[75] and the mission's associated hospital. He found that the missionaries established the first cemetery there in 1868, but relocated the remains of eight missionaries to the present Catholic cemetery in 1929. They left behind the remains of hundreds of Indigenous people, and the cemetery was ploughed over in 1948, and became a potato field.

Lafferty's research, facilitated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Mackenzie–Fort Smith in Yellowknife, involved ground-penetrating radar and identified 298 people likely buried at the site in unmarked graves. This number included adults as well as 161 children from across the Dehcho who attended the Sacred Heart Mission School.[76] Some members of the community believe the actual number of buried students is much higher,[77] while a separate study estimated 150 total children and adults.[78] The project was led by the Deh Gáh Got'ı̨ę First Nation following the earlier identification of an unmarked cemetery in the early 1990s.[76]

In 2013[78] a memorial was erected on the site listings the names or,in the case of those whose names are not known, the identities of the people buried at the site.

Startng around 2009, former NWT premier Stephen Kakfwi made annual pilgrimages to the site to honour the dead in ceremony, and encouraged community members, and representatives of governments and religious institutions to do the same.[79][80] In July 2021, Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę First Nation confirmed that they would try to complete a further search of the former school grounds before the first snowfall, though community healing and acquiring funding were priorities.[76][81]


St. Mary's

On January 17, 2023, a statement released by Wauzhushk Onigum Nation announced the discovery of 171 "anomalies", which it called "plausible burials",[82] located by ground-penetrating radar around the site of the former St. Mary's Indian Residential School. According to the statement, "The Nation’s next steps are to gain greater certainty on the number of plausible graves in the cemetery grounds using additional technologies and to conduct additional investigations at several additional sites not covered during the initial investigations that are in the vicinity of the school."[83]



Battleford Industrial School's final principal expressed concern over future generations forgetting the cemetery containing the bodies of former students at the school site:

When the Battleford school closed in 1914, Principal E. Matheson reminded Indian Affairs that there was a school cemetery that contained the bodies of seventy to eighty individuals, most of whom were former students. He worried that unless the government took steps to care for the cemetery, it would be overrun by stray cattle. Matheson had good reason for wishing to see the cemetery maintained: several of his family members were buried there. These concerns proved prophetic, since the location of this cemetery is not recorded in the available historical documentation, and neither does it appear in an internet search of Battleford cemeteries.[84]

The land was never officially registered as a cemetery, and became dilapidated and vandalised. In 1974, five students from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Saskatchewan excavated 72 graves at the of the 74 people buried in the Battleford school cemetery.[85][86] Most of the people buried there are former students of the Industrial School. During the excavation, the contents of each unmarked grave were uncovered, identified, and recorded, then re-covered and marked with a marble marker, before a chain-link fence was erected around the outside of the site. On August 31, 1975, the burial ground was reconsecrated in a ceremony where a cairn was erected with the names of fifty students known to be buried there.[85]

In 2019, the cemetery was designated Provincial Heritage Property by the Government of Saskatchewan.[87][88]

George Gordon

On April 20, 2022, George Gordon First Nation Chief Byron Bitternose announced that 14 possible grave sites were identified using ground-penetrating radar at the former George Gordon Indian Residential School site. Records from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation showed that 49 students died during the school's operation from 1888 to 1996.[89]

Kamsack and Fort Pelly

A search using ground-penetrating radar was conducted by Keeseekoose First Nation on the former grounds of St. Philip's Indian Residential School in Kamsack, Saskatchewan, and the former site of another school near Fort Pelly, which had been erected at the expense of the Oblate Fathers from 1905 to 1913. The search by ground-penetrating radar revealed 42 potential unmarked graves at the Fort Pelly site, and 12 at St. Philip's.[90] The first St. Philip's boearding school was built in 1901 from logs daubed with mortar and was attended by students from the Cote and Keesekoose reservations.[91] The students in 1945 were Anishnabe (then called Ojibwé, Ojibwa, Saulteux, Sauteux, or Saulteaux). According to Oblate records,in 1966 345 Indigenous children attended school at the Pelly agency, 95 boarders and 207 day students at St Philip's , which closed in 1969.[91]

La Ronge

A cemetery dating back to at least the early 1900s was situated by the Lac La Ronge Indian Residential School near La Ronge on or adjacent to land that is now the Lac La Ronge Indian Band's urban reserve.[92][93] The graveyard served as the last resting place for community members, school staff and possibly students who died at the school.[93][94] While the cemetery retains some headstones, rocks and other grave markings, SNC Lavalin was hired to search for potential unmarked graves using GPR within as well as outside the boundaries where some fear the unbaptized or those who committed suicide were buried.[95][93][94]

As of December 23, 2021, the search was about 97 percent complete.[94][92] Crosses were put up to mark possible gravesites identified by GPR.[92]


A cemetery established at the Muscowequan Indian Residential School was rediscovered in 1992 amidst planning for and initial work on a new water line from documentary evidence and inadvertent exhumations during the aborted dig.[96] Nineteen bodies were found with indications of further graves nearby.[97][98] In 2018, a team led by a University of Alberta researcher identified a further ten to fifteen potential gravesites by GPR.[99] The graves are estimated to contain people of Saulteaux, Cree, Métis as well as European origin, many of whom had fallen ill from an influenza epidemic in the early 1900s.[96] Further searches are planned.[100][101]


Marieval Residential School in 1923

A community graveyard next to Marieval Indian Residential School in Marieval on the lands of Cowessess First Nation was first used in 1885 before the school was established, and as included the graves of children and also adult Catholic parishioners.[102][103] However, by 2021, only an estimated third of the graves remained marked.[102]

Archbishop of Regina Don Bolen said that headstones were lost at least in part in the 1960s when an Oblate priest and a local First Nations chief "entered into a conflict" and the priest then used a bulldozer to knock over "huge numbers of tombstones."[104] One person claiming relatives in the cemetery said he knew the workers who picked up the headstones.[105] In 2019, the Archdiocese of Regina provided $70,000 to identify the unmarked graves and restore the cemetery.[104][105]

A subsequent search for unmarked gravesites was delayed two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[106] In May 2021, the Cowessess First Nation announced it would search the site using ground-penetrating radar in collaboration with a group from Saskatchewan Polytechnic.[102] the search began on June 1 and expanded four times after anecdotes when elders said that bodies had been buried outside the school grounds.[106]

On June 24, 2021, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme announced that findings from the preliminary survey indicated the presence of up to 751 unmarked graves near the former site of the school.[107][102][108][104] The preliminary figure was the highest number of potential or confirmed unmarked graves associated with a given residential school, according to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents Saskatchewan's First Nations.[109] Delorme underlined, "This is not a mass grave site. These are unmarked graves."[108] In noting that the radar technology used had an error rate of 10–15%, he concluded that as a result of the loss of the headstones, "today, we have over 600 unmarked graves."[104][110]

On October 8, 2021, it was announced[who?] that names had been put to 300 of the gravesites. The identification was made possible through the records of the RCMP, the Catholic Church, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, as well as band oral history.[103]

A press release published January 20, 2022 announced the identification of the 751 unmarked graves as belonging to "both former children who attended the Residential School and locals, both First Nation and non-First Nations," and said that more research had to be done to be able to "share the true story by identifying which children did not make it home."[111]


As part of a project begun in November 2021,[112] Star Blanket Cree Nation carried out a search of the former grounds of Qu'Appelle Indian Residential School in fall and winter 2022 using ground-penetrating radar. Its preliminary findings, announced January 12, 2023 included over 2000 "hits" on ground-penetrating radar and the discovery of a fragment of the jawbone of a child between 4 and 6, which the Saskatchewan Coroners Service estimated was approximately 125 years old. Not all "hits" are suspected graves. Further work was set to continue as of January 2023.[113]

Regina Indian Industrial School

In 2010 and 2012, an archaeological survey with ground-penetrating radar of the southern part of the private land that held the cemetery associated with the Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) found likely evidence of 38 graves, including six outside the cemetery fence.[114] Documents from 1921 indicated that a prairie fire probably destroyed the wooden crosses marking thirty to forty gravesites, at the western edge of site of the former school. In 2014, an unpublished report by the Regina Planning Department indicated that the site contained the remains of about 35 First Nations and Métis children, and the bodies of two children of the school's first principal. The principal himself and his wife are also known to be buried there, as attested by a "small and barely visible gravestone" and "the only surviving marker in the cemetery" as of 2012.[114] In September 2016, the cemetery received municipal heritage status, and in July 2017 it received provincial heritage status. It had been privately owned farmland since the 1980s.[115] According to the CBC, the land was "recovered" in 2011 through arrangement between the private owners, the RCMP, and the RIIS Commemorative Association. In 2019, a land transfer ceremony was held to give the land to the Commemorative Association.[116] In the weeks before Canada's first National Day for Truth And Reconciliation on September 30, 2021, 38 orange metal feathers were placed in the ground on the site, to mark the 38 gravesites believed to be there. The metal markers were donated by the Pasqua First Nation and Pro Metal Industries.[117] The site is encircled by a white picket fence.[118][relevant?]


Chooutla Indian Residential School

A search led by the Chooutla Working Group in Carcross, Yukon, was scheduled to begin in summer 2023, with plans to expand search to other communities in future years.[119][120] GeoScan, a survey company based in BC. searched 9.2 acres with ground-penetrating radar and found 15 anomalies grouped together in an area of 624 square feet.[121]

To be determined

A number of First Nations announced searches for unmarked graves at various former residential school sites. Some of these searches were already underway prior to the Kamloops confirmation. Below are a list of school sites announced thus far:

  • Old Sun (Blackfoot) Indian Residential School and Crowfoot Indian Residential School near Gleichen – search led by Siksika Nation using GPR in collaboration with the Institute for Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology at the University of Alberta.[123][124] Site clean-up began in early August 2021, and a community info session was held in September 2021.[125][126]
  • In 2022, the Dene Nation proposed a $500,000 plan to the government to investigate 15 residential school locations for unmarked burial sites identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.[127] The schools are Immaculate Conception (Roman Catholic) and All Saints (Anglican) in Aklavik,[128] Fleming Hall in Fort McPherson,[129] Fort Providence, St. Joseph's in Fort Resolution, Bompas Hall (Anglican) and Dehcho Lapointe Hall (where children still attend school) in Fort Simpson,[130] St. Peter's in Hay River, Grollier Hall (Roman Catholic) and Stringer Hall (Anglican) in Inuvik,[131] Akaitcho Hall in Yellowknife, Federal Hostel in Délı̨nę, and All Saints in Shingle Point, Yukon.[127]
  • Ermineskin Indian Residential School – search announced August 2021, overseen by a group of elders from Ermineskin Cree Nation, carried out by engineers from SNC-Lavalin using GPR.[132]
  • Guy Hill Indian Residential School near The Pas – search led by Opaskwayak Cree Nation using GPR; Nation was preparing for the search as of late July 2021.[133]
  • McKay Indian Residential School near Dauphin – search led by Opaskwayak Cree Nation using GPR, conducted by SNC-Lavalin; Nation began the search in Fall 2021, paused for the winter, and is set to resume in June 2022. As of May 29, 2022, no unmarked graves have been identified, though only a fraction of the search area has been covered.[74]
  • Mohawk Institute in Six Nations – investigation to be carried out by Six Nations Police, along with Brantford Police and OPP, overseen by a "Survivor's Secretariat" headed by Kimberly Murray, former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[134][135] An unmarked burial site believed to contain the remains of an adolescent was found near the site in August 2020, and as of October 2021, investigations were underway to identify more of the identity of this child, how they came to be buried there, as well as whether their death can be linked to the residential school.[136][137] A search of the former school grounds began in November 2021.[138]
  • Mount Elgin Indian Residential School in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation – on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30, 2020, Chippewas of the Thames announced that a probe into the site was in its early stages.[139]
  • The site of Sept-Îles Residential School [fr] (Notre-Dame de Sept-Îles) in Sept-Îles, Quebec – a group of Innu chiefs announced in June 2021 that they would put together a team to begin the process of conducting searches of the site for unmarked graves.[140]
  • Spanish Indian Residential Schools in Spanish, Ontario – members of the Sagamok Anishnawbek, Mississauga and Serpent River First Nations, which came together as the Nisoonag (Three Canoes) Partnership, held a ceremony on Saturday, September 18, 2021, to ask for the permission of the souls of the children possibly buried at the site of the schools.[141] Other gatherings were held in June and October 2021, to reflect and prepare to apply for government funding to help with a search, and in February 2022 was announced that such a search would be taking place over the following 2–3 years.[142]
  • St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario – led by Fort Albany First Nation in collaboration with nearby communities, began in 2020 and ongoing as of April 2022.[143]
  • St. Michael's Indian Residential School, in Alert Bay – led by 'Namgis First Nation; the search was in "early stages" as of July 2021, and a press release in February 2022 officially announced the start of the inquiry, detailing plans for community engagement, contracting a project manager, and erecting a monument following the investigation.[39][144]
  • St. Paul's Indian Residential School (Squamish), in North Vancouver – Joint investigation to uncover documents associated with the former residential school, as well as identify the burial sites of children that died while attending the school led by the Squamish Nation, Musqueam Nation and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, announced August 10, 2021.[145][39][60]
  • Thunderchild Indian Residential School in Delmas, Saskatchewan – search led by Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs, in association with SNC-Lavalin.[146][147] An initial ground-penetrating radar search in July 2021 of the immediate area around the school site found no graves, but elder testimony and records indicate that 44 children died at the school and there are graves to be found; the gravestone of 14-year old Henry Atcheynum was found by a farmer about a kilometre from the search area. This, and students' testimony that graves were moved as much as twice has led BATC to expandthe search area to the Saskatchewan River. The BATC also plans to search the Battleford Industrial Residential School once the Delmas search is complete.[148]
  • The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations were also engaged in an investigation as of August 17, 2021.[39]
  • Shubenacadie Nova Scotia -- a member of the Sipekneꞌkatik First Nation, a curator with the Nova Scotia Museum, and an associate professor from Saint Mary's University investigated the site of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. They found unmarked graves from more than a hundred years before the school was founded,[149] but nothing related to the school, which operated from 1929 to 1967. The building burned to the ground in 1986 and the land is now occupied by a plastics factory and used as farmland. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation lists 16 children who died while at the school,[150] The investigation used GPR and aerial laser scanning. Sipekne’katik Chief Mike Sack said the search will resume if new information comes forward.[151] The First Nation received federal funding in April 2022 to complete the fieldwork, gather knowledge, and commemorate the school's legacy.[152]

In 2021, the Stó:lō Nation announced a three-year search for unmarked graves at Fraser Valley residential schools, including the site of the former St. Mary's Indian Residential School in Mission, the Methodist-run Coqualeetza Residential School grounds in Chilliwack, and the All Hallows Residential School in Yale.[153] A historic 1958 funeral photo shows at least twelve graves outside the current St. Mary's cemetery fence line, an area now covered by blackberry bushes with the iron cross grave markers lying along the cemetery perimeter.[153] The Coqualeetza grounds had a cemetery, but the remains were dug up and moved to three or four First Nations cemeteries in Chilliwack when the school closed in 1940.[154] for conversion to a children's hospital in 1941.[155][153] In addition to searches of known graveyards, they plan to search for unrecorded graves, as informal burials are not uncommon among Stó:lō communities.[153] The search will entail archival research and GPR, with confirmation of any findings by exhumation prior to a commemoration to be decided later.[153] Although no progress had been made on the estimated $3 million plan proposed to the government,[153] later that year memorial house post carvings were erected at the sites of the second location of the government-run St. Mary's, now Pekw'Xe:yles , and Coqualeetza[156] to honor victims of abuse and those who died.[157] In September 2023, Stó:lō Nation announced that at least 158 of their children had died at three residential schools and a hospital.[158]


215 pairs of children's shoes laid out in rows at the Vancouver Art Gallery on June 6, 2021

Community memorials were set up at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Ontario Legislative Building, as well as various government buildings and church buildings that had been in charge of running the residential school system.[159][160]

Walking With Our Sisters, a commemorative art installation of moccasin vamps that was created in 2013 to remember and honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was expanded in 2014 to include children who died while in the custody of Canada’s residential schools.[161]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked that flags on all federal buildings be flown at half-staff.[162] On June 2, 2021, the federal government pledged C$27 million in immediate funding to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to identify the unmarked graves.[163] The provincial governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario also pledged C$12 million, C$8 million, C$2 million, C$2.5 million and C$10 million, respectively, to fund searches.[164][165][166][167][168] MPs Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Charlie Angus have called on Justice Minister David Lametti to launch an independent investigation on crimes against humanity in Canada.[169] Canada Day festivities were cancelled in some communities in British Columbia, Alberta, Northern Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.[170][171][172]

The Canadian School Boards Association has asked for the development of a Canada-wide curriculum on Indigenous history, to be taught from kindergarten to Grade 12.[173] In New Brunswick, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the education curriculum would be amended to teach about the province's Indigenous day schools.[174]

The United Nations Human Rights Office and independent UN human rights experts have called on Canada and the Holy See to investigate the uncoveries.[175][176] Similar sentiments were echoed by the governments of China, Russia, Belarus, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.[177]

Statue of Egerton Ryerson, toppled on June 6, 2021 (2005 photo)

The identification of possible gravesites at Kamloops has been followed by calls for name changes and removals of monuments commemorating figures controversial for their colonial views or policies towards Indigenous peoples.[178][179] These include monuments to Egerton Ryerson,[180][181][182][183] John A. Macdonald,[184][185][186][187][188][189][190][191] Hector-Louis Langevin,[192] Oscar Blackburn,[193] Vital-Justin Grandin,[194][195] and James Cook.[196] The doors of St. Paul's Cathedral in Saskatoon were covered in paint on June 24.[197]

Additionally, a school named after Prince Charles was renamed,[198] and statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were toppled by protesters.[196]

Church fires

By July 4, 2021 nearly two dozen churches, including eight on First Nations territories, had been burned, with community leaders and commentators correlating the fires with the involvement of the Catholic and Anglican churches in operating residential schools. Writer Robert Jago identified religion as a point of full separation between indigenous and Canadian society, holding that "[i]t is a legitimate debate for First Nations to talk about removing Catholic churches from [indigenous] territories".[199] Indigenous leaders, including Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band, as well as the prime minister and provincial officials condemned the suspected arsons.[199]

In 2024, a CBC News investigation identified 33 churches that had burned since May 2021, including 24 that had been confirmed as arsons and two that had been ruled accidental. Of the arsons, nine resulted in arrests; "no clear motive has been established" in the incidents that resulted in criminal charges. The CBC investigation found that the fires and vandalism of other churches correlated with the increased publicity surround gravesites at residential schools. Royal Canadian Mounted Police information indicated that between May 2019 and May 2021, there were nine arsons at churches in Alberta; between June 2021 and September 2023, there were 29. Some fires have been tied to indigenous communities expressing discontent with a failure to address the harm done by residential schools, while others–including a fire at a Coptic Orthodox church–have been identified as being wholly unrelated to the residential schools.[200]

Call for investigation into Duplessis Orphans

Numerous Duplessis Orphans were committed, some wrongfully, by the provincial government of Quebec into psychiatric hospitals run by the Catholic Church in the 1940s and 1950s and possibly buried there. The publicity and government response concerning the situation at residential schools renewed calls for the Quebec government and the Catholic Church to excavate the sites of these hospitals, with a class action lawsuit launched in 2018 denouncing the lack of a "true apology" by the government and religious organizations.[201][202]

Media reporting in 2021

"Children who never returned from residential schools" were the Canadian Newsmakers of the Year in 2021, an annual designation voted by a nationwide survey of editors and published by the Canadian Press.[203]

In July 2021, a New York Times article[5] "'Horrible History'" sparked interest in the matter. In May 2022, the National Post article "The year of the graves" said that despite the saturation of news coverage and their consequences, nothing new had been added to the public record that was not already known and that "it wasn't the Indigenous people directly involved who made the disturbing claims that ended up in the headlines".[52]

See also

External links

  • Way, Alex. "Statement from the Office of the Chief" (PDF). Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. Retrieved May 11, 2024.
  • "Statement on Discovery of Unmarked Grave" (PDF). June 30, 2021.


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