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Residential school graves like Kamloops, Cowessess expected to be found in Alberta

Last Updated Jun 24, 2021 at 1:01 pm MDT

Children's shoes lie on the steps of Calgary City Hall as part of a memorial set up following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a residential school site in Kamloops. (PHOTO: Tom Ross, 660 NEWS)

CALGARY – As another mass gravesite at a former residential school in Saskatchewan is probed, similar discoveries are expected to be made in Alberta, particularly around the Edmonton and Lac la Biche areas.

The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan said Wednesday that it uncovered the “horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves” at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

In a release, the nation said the number of graves is the most “significantly substantial to date in Canada.”


READ MORE: ‘Hundreds of unmarked graves’ found at former residential school in Saskatchewan


Chairman Stanley Delorme with the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement says we’ll find sites like the Kamloops and Cowessess discoveries in Alberta.

“We’ve had families move from those areas into our communities,” Delorme said.

“So we’ll most likely touch base with them and formulate a team effort to explore and obviously do some research on some of those grounds.”

Chief Billy Morin of the Enoch Cree First Nation says this is an opportunity.

“Some don’t want to do ground-penetrating radar, and some probably do,” Morin said.

“There’s a lot of technical capacity when it comes to that.”


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Morin adds that there’s a lot of opportunities here to do good and it’s a significant start.

Alberta had the most residential schools out of any province in Canada–25 out of over 130 were operated here.

Kisha Supernant, the director of the University of Alberta’s Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology and a Métis descendant of the Papaschase First Nation, told CityNews in May that records indicate there are at least another 800 mass graves in Canada–but that’s just what is on record.

“Communities and families and survivors have stories of children who went missing and who died who are likely not in those records so I suspect the number may be much higher,” she said.

“I can anticipate that if we start to do this work we’re going to find things that most Canadians, non-Indigenous Canadians, might not expect. It’s going to be on a scale that might be very difficult for people. But [Indigenous] communities already know that.”


READ MORE: Hundreds more unmarked residential school graves, anticipate experts


Indigenous lawyer Pam Palmater echoed Supernant’s comments when we spoke to her shortly after the Kamloops discovery.

“There’s lots more,” she said last month.

“You have survivors of residential schools saying, ‘I was forced to bury other kids in the residential schools.’ So, kids burying other kids. Kids going to school and looking out the window and knowing where all of these kids are buried in the background. If you can imagine the nightmare being in these schools and knowing what’s out there.”

On Wednesday, Alberta pledged up to $8 million in funding to help find the graves in this province.


READ MORE: Alberta creates $8M grant program for research at former residential school sites


The money will go towards helping First Nations peoples research and use ground-penetrating radar to find burial sites.

Premier Jason Kenney says the government of Alberta is committed to working with First Nations here to help provide closure to people.

-with files from Saif Kaisar, Courtney Theriault, and the Canadian Press