Jackie Bromley experienced memories of her time at St. Mary’s Residential School on the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta when she heard that the bones of 215 children had been discovered at the site of a previous residential school in B.C. When Bromley was 10, she recalls children discussing cemeteries behind the school, but she doesn’t recall seeing any headstones.
“I considered the backyard, where there were supposedly some tombs. And the first thing that came to mind was, “I wonder if there are any children buried here,” you know?”
Bromley’s classmates were correct: the schoolyard was littered with student graves. In a letter to the school’s principal in 1945, an Indian agent demands that Indigenous employees be forced to redig the graves next to the school to make them even deeper.
According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), determining the precise number of residential schools in Canada is challenging. It’s also difficult to determine how many unmarked children’s graves there are, according to Kisha Supernant.
Supernant, a Métis anthropology professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is a descendant of the Papaschase First Nation. She and her colleagues utilize ground-penetrating radar to assist Indigenous tribes across the Prairies in surveying burial places.
She claims that remote sensing technology like GPR and drones are essential for surveying unmarked graves and ensuring that the locations are not physically disturbed. “The scientific proof we can present has a lot of weight. It shouldn’t be necessary; communities should be allowed to be heard; but, I am willing to assist communities in this endeavor “ according to Supernant.
“The community owns all of the data and has access to it… This is not the same as showing up and operating a piece of machinery…. It’s a process of interacting with the community while also being aware of the sensitivity of what we’re doing and the possible consequences.”