Kisha Supernant, the Alberta-based anthropologist, understands how sensitive her work of surveying cemeteries and unmarked burial grounds, graveyards and residential schoolyards is. She is also the director of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology at the University of Alberta. When she heard about the bodies discovered in Kamloops, she was heartbroken.
“I can’t say I was shocked or surprised at the news though, just because I have done similar work in other contexts.”
Two years ago, Supernant and her team used ground-penetrating radars on the grounds of a former residential school on the Muskowekwan First Nation in Saskatchewan. By using this advanced tool, Supernant found what is suspected to be a site that contains 10 to 15 graves. According to the records, the researchers suspect that between 30 and 35 children were recorded as dying or having gone missing in the school.
Supernant said that a ground-penetrating radar still has its limits.
“You do not see the bones themselves, just because they’re not able to be picked up in the wave, it’s not like it’s an X-ray.”
She explained that the radar looks for disturbances in the soil instead. This is how the machine finds graves.
In order for the exhumation to be completed, the project needs to be led by families and communities who are related to the victims. Megan Bassendale, the director of Forensic Guardians Consulting Intl. said:
“The families and the community are a fundamental part of this. If they don’t believe in the process then it won’t work. You need to have transparency with them, you need to have buy in from them, and you need to listen to what it is they want.”
More and more people, mostly from the First Nation tribes, are supporting this cause. They are looking for answers. Bassendale stated that, despite the huge support, this process may take time:
“It’s not quick and it’s not easy. And it’s invasive to the families themselves.”
Bassendale stated that there are numerous processes involved, such as collecting DNA samples from those who believe they are living relatives of the deceased, and that the whole project may last longer than expected.