Alberta First Nation finishes first phase of search at former residential school site
'This work is just the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of uncovering our truth'
A northern Alberta First Nation says it has completed the first phase of ground penetrating radar in its search for children's remains at a former residential school site.
Kapawe'no First Nation, located about 280 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, said in a written statement that finding any unmarked graves at Grouard Indian Residential School, also known as St. Bernard Mission School, is imperative to the community's collective healing.
"The initial work conducted is to begin the search for children who never made it home," Kapawe'no chief and council said in a statement Thursday.
"This work is just the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of uncovering our truth."
Grouard Indian Residential School — on the west side of Lesser Slave Lake in Grouard, about 230 kilometres northeast of Grande Prairie — was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1894 and closed about 60 years ago.
In early August, Kapawe'no First Nation invited a team from the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology at the University of Alberta to assess areas around the Grouard Residential School.
A research team led by the institute's director, Kisha Supernant, is conducting the work and a report on their findings should be finished by the end of the year, the Kapawe'no First Nation said Thursday.
"The work is still in progress and needs to be thoroughly analyzed," the statement says.
"This will take time. We are all working together, please be patient — we are healing and awaiting the results of our search."
The First Nation said they are also working with Treaty 8 First Nations to search for unmarked graves at 10 other residential school sites in Treaty No. 8 Territory.
"This process is imperative to our collective healing and the initial stage of our grieving," chief and council said in the statement.
"We are honouring our elders and all survivors who bravely shared their truths of their lived experiences and those of their family and loved ones."
The statement says the work has not received funding from the federal or provincial government.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has records of 10 students dying at Grouard Indian Residential School. Their names are listed here: National Student Memorial.
The First Nation says their work continues and survivors of residential, day schools or Indian hospitals in Treaty 8 territory are encouraged to contact the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8.
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
With files from CBC