New resource helps Indigenous communities begin the process of finding unmarked graves


Warning: This story contains some details that may be painful for readers.


Experts familiar with the complexities of finding unmarked graves are overwhelmed by the problems of the aboriginal community, and they want to know how to start the emotional process in the former boarding school grounds.

There are also concerns that some indigenous groups may be used by companies to provide them with land surveys without proper professional knowledge or technology.

This is why a group of archaeologists and scholars created free online resources to answer questions and explain the process and complexity. They say this is a way to empower the community to make decisions based on information they can trust.

“Some communities are ready to act quickly, and we want to make sure that this information is available to them and to any company that is considering this work,” said Kisha Supernant, director and associate professor of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology. In the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta.

The questions Supernant and her colleagues received included how ground penetrating radar (GPR) works, how to decide which company to hire, which permits are needed, and the best way to respect these locations.

They created a video and FAQ, Posted on the website of the Canadian Archaeological Society on Saturday.

Supernant said this is especially important because she has heard that companies and individuals at the former Kamloops Indian boarding school “used a tragic situation” to contact indigenous leaders and provide assistance in finding unmarked graves.

“My concern with some companies saying’we are going to come out tomorrow’ is that these companies may not have the internal expertise to find graves,” she said.

“They may know how to use this technology, but applying the technology to unmarked graves is very professional. Most large engineering companies or geophysical companies may never try to use it to find graves.”

Indigenous leaders and companies that carried out this work expressed their appreciation for the resource guide initiative.

Watch | Indigenous communities start searching for unmarked graves:

Warning: This story contains painful details. After Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported that human remains were found at the site of a former boarding school, more aborigines have begun to search for unmarked graves-but experts say it is not as simple as using this technology . 2:04

The aboriginal chief of Long Plains, Dennis Meeches, has completed GPR work in parts of the former Portage la Prairie boarding school west of Winnipeg, but said that more land needs to be investigated.

He said that CAA’s resources will be “very helpful” for leaders trying to make decisions about procedures.

“More research must be done,” he said.

“People are very worried that there may indeed be an unmarked grave in that place. So we need to be very sure and comfortable, knowing that we have done our best to view it and close it.”

‘Don’t cause more trauma’

Since the news of Kamloops’ discovery came out, Craig Campbell of G3Tech in Saskatoon has been receiving calls from people asking for a weekend course to learn how to use ground penetrating radar (GPR).

“I know exactly what it is for,” Campbell said.

“The company that just bought a piece of equipment last month found me and they want to start collecting [GPR data on potential] cemetery. I just advise them to oppose it and stay away from it. Don’t cause more trauma. “

Jordan Swenson, a ground penetrating radar technician at G3Tech in Saskatoon, used GPS to place pink piles at all potential burial sites identified by ground penetrating radar on Beardy and Okemasis’ Cree Nation in October 2019. They identified nearly 50 potential burial sites. (Craig Campbell/G3Tech)

He said it is easy to collect wrong information and interpret the data incorrectly.

“You can’t just rent this [equipment] And decided to become a GPR surveyor. It’s like taking a knife and thinking about becoming a surgeon,” Campbell said.

Will Meredith, an archaeological geophysicist and GPR expert at a Vancouver company called GeoScan, agreed. He said that searching for graves that were not marked decades ago is very different from searching for underground pipes or cables.

“We don’t want any misinformation that might cause any further pain or unease,” Meredith said, adding that this is not a’show up’ job.

Adam Czecholinski, a technician from GeoScan in Vancouver, performs a magnetic measurement in British Columbia. In addition to using ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic conductivity measurements are usually performed to produce more accurate underground results. (Provided by GeoScan)

Before anyone can investigate the area, a lot of historical research needs to be done and land use permits must be obtained. He said that the more accurately an archaeologist or community determines a location, the more efficient and cost-effective it will be.

The site survey will also determine the correct technology to use-swamp areas may be different compared to densely forested areas. In addition to GPR, GeoScan usually uses electromagnetic conductivity and magnetometry.

“You can’t just go out blindly and start investigating them. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Meredith said.

The raw data of the GeoScan survey using ground penetrating radar must be correctly analyzed and interpreted by experienced technicians. This is an image of the “floor plan” of the underground. The black objects are tombs of metal coffins, which is why they are so clear. When the material of the coffin is different, or there is no coffin at all, experts say it is more difficult to identify the tomb. (Provided by GeoScan)

Supernant knows that there is urgency and motivation for some communities to finally start this work. In particular, it is reported that the federal government will allocate $27 million to help communities locate and identify children who have never returned from boarding schools.

Alberta also has Committed funds Research undocumented websites.

Nonetheless, Supernant stated that it is important not to make a hasty decision, which is essential to ensure that survivors and their families are supported. “The ceremony is carried out in an appropriate manner. All children are enrolled in any particular school in different countries. Opportunity to participate in the process of deciding their own together.”

Day 613:48Archaeologists say more support is needed to investigate other suspected cemeteries at the boarding school

Warning: This story contains some details that may be painful for readers. In the days after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation reported that the remains of 215 children were found during an initial scan at the site of a former boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia, Indigenous communities across Canada have requested Similar searches for suspicious locations. Their territory. Three indigenous women reflected on the importance of counting all the children who died in boarding schools, and Kisha Supernant, a Metis archaeologist at the University of Alberta, explained how she used ground penetrating radar to help indigenous communities carry out this work. 13:48


Anyone affected by the boarding school experience and those affected by the latest report can receive support.

A nationwide Indian boarding school crisis hotline has been established to provide support to former students and those affected. People can call the 24-hour national crisis hotline: 1-866-925-4419 for emotional and crisis referral services.



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