Further GPR work possible to find unmarked graves on former Indian hospital grounds


By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com Tue., July 20, 2021

A five-inch bone fragment alleged to have been found on the grounds of the former Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton is not from a human.

Architect Gene Dub, who is in the process of developing the site with residences, says he received verbal confirmation from the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) that the coroner had determined the bone to be from an animal. The bone was turned into Dub a couple months ago by someone who said it had been found it on the site. In turn, Dub contacted the EPS.

While that mystery has been solved, Dub is still waiting to hear back on the results from ground penetrating radar (GPR) that was conducted in June on the southeast portion of the Camsell site where no excavation work has taken place.

Dub’s development plan sees that area slated to contain eight single-family dwellings along with a one-acre park.

Dub commits to making the findings public, but says he will first be consulting with Calvin Bruneau, chief of the Papaschase band in Edmonton, and Dr. Kisha Supernant, director of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archeology with the University of Alberta, who has overseen the methodology of the GPR work.

GPR findings are not definitive and indicate only anomalies in the ground that may be burials. Based on the probability of burials, the decision may be made to uncover some of the areas to determine exactly what has been found.

“We wouldn’t want to decide without input from all the parties and those parties would be perhaps Indigenous peoples who were involved in the hospital, whose relatives were there,” said Dub, who is certain those who are interested will approach him.

Bruneau says there are stories that surround this one-acre parcel of land as burial grounds.

“People who had gone to the Camsell, that’s where they were pinpointing over the years, the southeast corner of the property,” he said.

The site in the Inglewood neighbourhood first housed a Jesuit College before being leased to the American military. Shortly after, the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps took it over as a military hospital for veterans.

It became the Indian Hospital in 1945, operating in that capacity until 1979. It served primarily as a tuberculosis sanatorium, bringing Indigenous patients from western provinces, the western Arctic and the sub-Arctic.

There are many stories by former patients and relatives of mistreatment of Indigenous people at the hospital, some of which have been documented in books.

Bruneau says those who died in the hospital were buried at the Poundmaker residential school grounds (now Poundmaker Lodge), Winterburn (on Enoch Cree Nation), and St. Albert.

But it was the accounts of the burials on the grounds of the Camsell that Bruneau discussed with Dub before the COVID pandemic hit. However, says Bruneau, Dub “was skeptical.”

Dub admits it was the uncovering of 200 graves at the former Kamloops residential school, coupled with his earlier discussions with Bruneau, that pushed him to undertake the GPR.

“It is disturbing (that Dub waited until the Kamloops uncovering), but the thing is, it is good he’s taking that approach where, like he knows, there’s a very real possibility here that human remains are here and we better deal with it,” said Bruneau.

Dub is now considering going a step further, undertaking GPR along the east property line. It’s a two- to three-acre area where there are no longer buildings. The buildings that were there were only up for five to 10 years and didn’t have basements.

“We’re trying to imagine what areas there possibly could have been burials and that’s one that could have had burials before the buildings were built,” said Dub.

That decision won’t be made until the results come in from the first GPR study. Those results are expected later this week.

What will happen if burials are confirmed on the grounds is unclear.

“I don’t know if you want to take them out … especially the way things are (with the uncovering of other gravesites). It could re-open more wounds,” said Bruneau. “I think it would be better if it was sectioned off, fenced off and that area protected.”

Dub has already committed to a commemorative identification for those impacted by the Camsell.

He also said that if a burial ground were found in the southeast corner, he would not go ahead with his planned development.

The overall project involves the hospital being converted into housing; 20 townhouses built to the north of the hospital and a seniors project to the south. Land to the west has been zoned for an apartment, but there are no plans at this time to build that apartment.


Free supports for Survivors

I found these at the bottom of a recent CBC article, and wanted to highlight them for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

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.

The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason. 

In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.

“Search for unmarked graves unearths memories from former ‘Indian hospital’ patients”

Northerners recall abuse at the facility as crews process results from the recent search for graves

Natalie Pressman · CBC News · Posted: Jul 14, 2021 12:55 PM CT | Last Updated: July 14

A teacher with students during the 1960s at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton, Alta., one of 29 facilities named in a class-action lawsuit. (Alberta Provincial Archives)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Don Gruben Sr. spent many of his early years traveling between his home community of Inuvik and the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton. 

Originally sent south to treat a broken leg, hospital staff told Gruben, then six years old, that he also had a collapsed lung. 

“To bring these things up, it hits the heart because I was one of the lucky ones,” Gruben said. “I survived and I’m grateful for that.”

The former Camsell Hospital in Edmonton is one of 29 segregated medical facilities that treated Indigenous children throughout the 20th century. 

Also known as Indian hospitals, former patients — some of whom stayed for months at a time — recall being vulnerable to medical experimentation, violent scolding and abuse. 

The developer is now waiting for results of a ground penetrating radar search on the grounds of the former Charles Camsell hospital in Edmonton. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

“When I was in Camsell Hospital I was afraid to disobey what was being asked of me,” Gruben said. “I was scared, they had their own ways of making you listen.”

The Edmonton site is now being searched for unmarked graves — a process that will provide closure and comfort for northern families, said Duane Smith, Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) CEO. 

As a larger facility than the northern treatment centres, residents of the Northwest Territories were often sent to Camsell Hospital. 

Smith emphasized the scale of its impact on Inuvialuit residents in his region. 

The search for Indigenous grave sites provides accountability on the part of the federal government, Smith said, “and hopefully some form of comfort for those who had family members that didn’t make it back.”

Camsell, along with the 28 other facilities, are listed in a $1.1 billion class action lawsuit against the federally funded segregated hospitals. Edmonton based lawyer Steven Cooper said that while the total number of northern patients at the Camsell site is unknown, he’s confident it is in the hundreds, with the total number of victims across the country believed to be in the tens of thousands. 

Ann Hardy, a Métis woman from Fort Smith, N.W.T, is the suit’s representative plaintiff. While she said it is difficult to relive her time spent at the Alberta hospital, she remains committed to speaking out against the Canadian sites in order to educate others on the realities of Canada’s history.  

“I will always educate,” she said, adding that through the challenges of reliving her trauma, she’s motivated to speak up on behalf of her parents and grandparents who “bore their troubles quietly.” 

I will continue to fight for it and to make sure that the future is better for my grandchildren,” Hardy said

Ann Hardy, a Métis woman from Fort Smith, N.W.T, is one of the chief plaintiffs in a class action suit alleging decades of abuse at federally run segregated hospitals. (Submitted by Ann Hardy)

For Hardy, and others, uncovering bodies at Camsell would not be surprising. 

“We have been saying for many years now that there have been unrecognized deaths, unrecognized graves, things that happened in the residential schools and in the federal Indian hospitals that had never been noted before by the government or in society,” she said.

“It isn’t news to us, because we’ve known about it. It’s confirmation of what we’ve known.”

Norman Yakeleya, Dene National Chief, said that the search for unmarked graves will bring closure for those whose loved ones never returned home from Camsell. Still, the use of ground penetrating radar does not replace an apology, he said. 

“People suffered just as they suffered in the residential schools,” Yakeleya said of the hospitals. “People died without notifying the families, patients were experimented on for medical purposes, we have a lot of our people who suffered in these Indian residential hospitals.”

Dene Nation is another plaintiff in the lawsuit against the federal hospitals. 

As discussions on the case are legally required to occur in person, the case has come to a near standstill throughout the last 16 months of the pandemic. 

In the interim, Cooper said the legal team continues to work with experts on properly defining which institutions are included in the Indian hospital system as well as the timeline of when exactly they operated.  

Like most class actions, there is an equal focus on compensation and validation,” Cooper said. “Canada talks a good game in terms of reconciliation but has a well documented history of fighting cases of historical injustice.” 

Yakeleya stressed that there is no justice until Canadian officials publicly acknowledge their wrong doings, visit communities and sit with Elders to learn the impact of its colonial institutions.  

“We want to make things right through the path of reconciliation, it is Canada’s move now,” he said. “Canada has to have a heart. And so we wait for them to apologize and set things right.” 

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC’s new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.

Support is available for anyone affected by the effects of residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

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.

The NWT Help Line offers free support to residents of the Northwest Territories, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is 100% free and confidential. The NWT Help Line also has an option for follow-up calls. Residents can call the help line at 1-800-661-0844.

In Nunavut, the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is open 24 hours a day at 1-800-265-3333. People are invited to call for any reason. 

In Yukon, mental health services are available to those in both Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities through Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services. Yukoners can schedule Rapid Access Counselling supports in Whitehorse and all MWSU community hubs by calling 1-867-456-3838.

Site of former Camsell Hospital Searched for Graves

Here is the full-text article from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/camsell-hospital-searched-1.6095796

First Nations, developer wait for results of ground penetrating radar search

Natasha RiebeAriel Fournier · CBC News · Posted: Jul 09, 2021 7:00 AM MT | Last Updated: July 9

First Nation members have been calling for construction to stop at the former Camsell Hospital where many believe patients may have been buried. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Crews are working to determine whether human remains are buried at the site of the former Camsell Hospital in Edmonton, where for decades, Indigenous people were sent for treatment.

Edmonton area First Nations and the site’s developer are both waiting to hear the results of the recent radar search. 

Gene Dub, architect and owner of the site, initiated a ground-penetrating radar search on the grounds at 127th Street and 115th Avenue in late June. 

He hired Maverick Inspections Inc. to do the scan after remains were found at the residential school in Kamloops, B.C. in late May and after consulting Chief Calvin Bruneau from Papaschase First Nation.

“Some people still feel like there could be burials on this site,” Dub told CBC News Thursday.  

The operations manager for Maverick, Steve Toner, said his teams are analyzing the data and preparing a georeference report, which he expects will be complete by next week. 

Dub said he plans to continue with the search after getting the first report. 

“We discussed this with Chief Calvin Bruneau and his feeling was that this is an area that we should look at so we’re taking it one area at a time and it is our intention to do all of the area along 127th street.”

Dub has been working on the building for several years to turn it into an apartment complex. Two more buildings are planned for the west and south of the hospital. 

For the past two weeks, a group of Indigenous people has gathered at the former hospital site demanding construction at the site stop so more searching can be conducted. 

A teacher with students during the 1960s at the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton. (Alberta Provincial Archives)

Trinity Brandon-Demeuse from the Michel First Nation started a petition a year ago calling for a halt to the construction on the site. 

She said a year ago, there was barely any interest.

“Now that people are able to listen and hear us and understand what we’re saying, I feel like it’s finally making a difference and people are finally taking this seriously.” 

“People went from being really negative about it to supporting the movement to get this done.” 

‘People remember graves there’

Bruneau said unless remains were dug up years ago and sent to other sites, he believes the radar work may find something. 

“People remember graves being there,” Bruneau told CBC News. “I’m thinking there is a good chance that there will be graves.”

Indigenous people from the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta were sent to the Camsell, mostly to be treated for tuberculosis. 

The Camsell was a federally run hospital in 1944, then taken over by the province until it closed in 1996.

For decades, former patients shared accounts of people being buried at the hospital.

There are reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, accounts of forced sterilization, shock therapy and experiments with TB vaccines on patients without their consent

A class-action lawsuit is currently underway against the federal government over the alleged treatment there. 

Bruneau said they’ve been talking about searching the grounds for many years, and it took the findings of remains in other parts of the country to bring attention to the Camsell site. 

“I think it’s long overdue,” Bruneau said. “Now we can start looking at it, dealing with this, and try bringing closure to some families and to the issue.” 

Brandon-Demeuse said she’d like to see the grounds turned into a healing centre or cultural centre for Indigenous people.

“Whether or not there’s mass graves here or anything like that, I want to see it reclaimed by our people and to be revitalized for our people.” 

Ground-Penetrating Radar being done at Camsell site

I just came across this recent article about investigations being done at the Camsell site, as well as protests over further development.

Reproduced from – https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/06/30/indian-hospital-in-edmonton-being-searched-for-remains.html

By By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.comWindspeaker.comWed., June 30, 2021. 7 min. read

“Our hearts were heavy,” say Andrea Jenkins and Lorelei Morin Mullings in explaining why they decided to take a stand last week at the former Charles Camsell Hospital site in northwest Edmonton.

The two close friends spoke on June 25. It was one day after the announcement of the location of remains in 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former residential school on Cowessess First Nation. Just that week, the Alberta government had announced $8 million for work to locate burial sites on the grounds of the Indian residential schools in the province.

The women had heard stories from their Elders and others who had been at the hospital about graves dug on the grounds of the Camsell when it served as an Indian hospital. They were told about bodies burned in the incinerator in the basement and they wanted people to know about that.

So Jenkins, Métis/Dene from the Northwest Territories, and Mullings, from the Enoch Cree Nation, decided they would raise their voices and bring awareness by standing at the site, which is now being developed for multi-family residences.

Their occupation was only supposed to last for the evening of June 25, but when 18 or 19 people joined them the first day, and then it swelled to 35 people, including Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey, who stopped by a few days later with water and food, Mullings said they decided they would extend their evening stays until July 1.

Mullings says she’ll be marking Canada Day with an orange shirt at the Camsell site.

Jenkins and Mullings want people to know the sordid history of the Camsell.

“It’s just mind blowing to me that so many people to this day have no idea what has happened there,” said Jenkins.

The site in the Inglewood neighbourhood first housed a Jesuit College before being leased to the American military. Shortly after, the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp took it over as a military hospital for veterans.

It became the Indian Hospital in 1945, operating in that capacity until 1979. It served primarily as a tuberculosis sanatorium, bringing Indigenous patients from western provinces, the western Arctic and the sub-Arctic.

In Dr. Samir Shaheen-Hussain’s book [Fighting For] a Hand to Hold, Shaheen-Hussain recounts incidents and treatments reported to have happened at the Camsell: children’s legs were put in casts to force them to remain in their beds; new tuberculosis treatments were tested on patients; children were sexually abused and assaulted by staff; there were suspicions that Indigenous peoples were being experimented on with medical procedures and treatments; and there was forced sterilization of women.

In her book entitled Separate Beds: A History of Indian Hospitals in Canada, 1920s-1980s, Maureen Lux writes that dormitory-style wards at the hospital allowed for cross-infection and that the University of Alberta Hospital and medical school used Camsell patients as subjects for studies. The patients were not in a social position to formally question their medical treatment.

“I know there are spirits there. I know they want to be free,” said Mullings. “We all feel it.”

All of this, say Jenkins and Mullings, is why the Camsell site should be left alone. Both women have signed an online petition calling to “Stop the redevelopment of the Charles Camsell hospital.”

The petition, reads, in part, “The Charles Camsell hospital is the site of many human rights violations against Indigenous people’s (sic). These violations include human experimental testing on Indigenous people, ties to Residential Schools, forced sterilization of Indigenous people, as well as the site of thousands of abuse cases against Indigenous people’s (sic).”

As of the morning of June 30, the petition, which has been online for seven months, had 394 signatures.

Petitioner Trinity Brandon-Demeuse is calling for the hospital to become a commemorative site.

Gene Dub, architect and developer of the site, says he is unaware of the petition. He also says that as work has already begun in the former hospital to turn it into condominiums it would be unsafe for a half-constructed building to remain standing.

Last week, Dub hired personnel to undertake ground penetrating radar (GPR) scans of the southeast portion of the Camsell site where no excavation work has taken place. The methodology for the scanning went through Dr. Kisha Supernant, who is the director of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archeology with the University of Alberta, says Dub, and he is anticipating the results later this week or mid-next week.

The scans come well into the development of the project, which involves the hospital being converted into housing; 20 townhouses built to the north of the hospital and a seniors project to the south. Land to the west has been zoned for an apartment, but there are no plans at this time to build that apartment.

A group of developers, of which Dub remains the only original member, purchased the land from the province in 2004.

“At that time there wasn’t nearly as much interest or concern about burial grounds. I think now we’re sort of shocked into finding we should investigate this more seriously,” said Dub.

The decision to undertake the GPR was based on both the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops residential school and concerns voiced by Calvin Bruneau, chief of the Papaschase band in Edmonton.

According to Bruneau, says Dub, as there are no existing buildings at the southeast corner of the site that could be a burial location.

In 2016, Dub says they worked with the city archivist, who told him there were no records of burials on the Camsell site.

“We have been counting on his opinion, but when we heard about Kamloops, we thought maybe we should be looking beyond that opinion,” said Dub.

The southeast part of the Camsell site is slated for a subdivision of eight single family dwellings and a one-acre park. The park is to include “some kind of commemorative identification of people who felt the Charles Camsell was an influence in their life,” said Dub.

“Certainly if anything was found in the way of burials, certainly we wouldn’t be building single family dwellings there. We would be perhaps turning that into some kind of memorial area …. If the various Indigenous groups that might have been involved would want to explore it further, they could excavate to see if there are in fact bones there, but we wouldn’t be doing anything if we found any bones,” said Dub.

If it is a burial site, Dub is unclear as to who would then own the land. He anticipates he would lose the money he spent on purchasing that parcel, but “it’s certainly not the biggest issue, I think.”

Dub says a five-inch bone fragment alleged to have been found on the site was brought to his office about a month ago. He says it was unclear whether it was an animal or human bone and whether it was old or recent. It has been turned over to the Edmonton Police Service for a forensic investigation. Dub says he has yet to hear back from the police.

The final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which came in 2015, included an entire volume on “Missing Children and Unmarked Graves.” It states that Protestant patients who died at the Charles Camsell, whose families couldn’t afford to have the bodies shipped home to their communities, were buried at the cemetery on the Edmonton residential school property.

Research undertaken by Travis Gladue-Beauregard, whose great grandfather died at the Charles Camsell in the late 1960s, also shows that burials occurred in the Winterburn cemetery on the Enoch Cree Nation.

Maxime Beauregard served as chief of Bigstone Cree Nation from 1947 to 1962. Gladue-Beauregard says he always wondered why his great grandfather wasn’t buried on the nation.

When he started asking questions a few years ago, he found out that Maxime had died at the Camsell.

“It was back then, the way the government was, the way Indian Affairs was, they didn’t have a lot of roads (or) infrastructure to haul bodies back home and I know that affected my family…. No one from the family, from my understanding, was actually there (when he was buried) or no one from the nation so I don’t even know if he got even a Christian burial or a traditional burial. I don’t know,” said Gladue-Beauregard.

He is hoping that GPR scanning will be done at the Winterburn cemetery so his great grandfather’s remains can be located.

“I think for a lot of families who didn’t have their loved ones come home, the idea is we’d just like to see some type of acknowledgement and also really try to bring some closure. For myself and for my family, for my family’s legacy, we want to have something to go to,” said Gladue-Beauregard.

If Maxime’s remains can be identified, Gladue-Beauregard is uncertain whether attempts will be made to repatriate them to Bigstone Cree Nation.

Gladue-Beauregard says he’s pleased that the scanning work has been undertaken at the Charles Camsell site and is anticipating work will be done at the other two sites connected to the Camsell.

That it took the discovery at Kamloops to get the ball rolling is a “little disheartening,” he said, but added, “These are the little stepping stones. But finally to get to this point, I’m happy that it’s happening now instead of happening in another 100 years from now. But should the government have been listening back then? Absolutely.”


Click here for a video featuring Dr. Crystal Fraser speaking about the Camsell hospital and possible burial sites (Global News)

“Monumental Effort”

Finding and honouring unmarked burials of Indigenous people in Alberta multi-year, ‘monumental’ effort: experts

The Edmonton Journal recently interviewed Dr. Crystal Fraser and Dr. Kisha Supernant on how expensive and time-consuming this critical research is. Here is the full text of the article.

WARNING: This story contains details about the history of Indian residential schools some readers may find distressing.

In the wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May, Alberta Indigenous Affairs Minister Rick Wilson said in late May the government will help fund research into the undocumented deaths and burials of hundreds of Indigenous children.

On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney said details of a multimillion-dollar package will be announced this week.

Crystal Fraser, an assistant history professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in residential schools, said the work in Alberta will be “monumental” and could take decades.

“On the archival side, this can take a career’s worth of work,” said Fraser, who is Gwichyà Gwich’in and originally from Inuvik and Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik in the Northwest Territories.

The federal government has made the remaining $27 million of $33.8-million first pledged in its 2019 budget available to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation to work on the National Residential School Student Death Register.

Saskatchewan announced last week it’s spending $2 million, and Ontario has recently committed $10 million towards provincial efforts to investigate and honour the deaths of children who went missing at residential schools.

However, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report said that there were at least 821 children, named and unnamed, who died in residential schools in Alberta between 1867 and 2000 — the most of any province or territory — although there are no definitive, reliable figures.

The TRC estimated there could have been more than 4,100 deaths across Canada, but Fraser believes there are far more, partly because many records haven’t been made available, and partly because some schools didn’t keep appropriate records in the first place.

“Families don’t know where their loved ones were buried. This was the way the system worked,” she said, adding residential schools were part of a larger system designed to dismantle families and to break Indigenous lineage and identities.

The TRC’s report noted that Indigenous children in residential schools died at a far higher rate than school-aged children in the general population, many parents were not told of their children’s sickness or death, and children were buried away from their families in long-neglected graves.

“It is clear that Indian Affairs was opposed, for cost reasons, to shipping the bodies of deceased children to their home communities,” the report says.

Fraser cautioned governments not to impose tight deadlines, but to give communities the opportunity to do the work properly, saying the Alberta government needs to commit enough long-term funding to show it’s serious.

“Given Kenney’s record on how he grapples with the residential school legacy, I don’t have a lot of confidence that what will be announced will be enough,” said Fraser. She pointed to comments made by the premier’s former speechwriter Paul Bunner that were criticized as being racist, the public statements of former curriculum adviser Chris Champion downplaying the severity of residential school abuse, and Kenney’s allegiance to the legacy of John A. Macdonald, who played a large role in Canada’s residential school system.

Kisha Supernant, a University of Alberta archeology professor who is Métis and a Papaschase First Nation descendant, also said the work in Alberta will require a lot of support for Indigenous communities to lead the work in cooperation with each other, including building specialized capacity.

She works with Indigenous communities to survey unmarked burial sites and said the work ahead goes well beyond time-consuming ground-penetrating radar scans, echoing Fraser’s concern that communities can’t be rushed to do the work to take advantage of a funding deadline.

“There is no school in Alberta that has had that full comprehensive research done around the children that went missing there. All 25 (officially recognized sites) need some level of work, and some will be further along that path than others,” she said.

Supernant said the effort needs to involve speaking with survivors, doing the kind of archival work Fraser is doing, geographical mapping, community consultation and putting psychological supports in place. She said she’s skeptical the amount from the federal government and provinces will be enough given the scope and the scale of work yet to be done.

She suggested the province could create a body to help with planning, expertise, data gathering and supports.

Fraser and Supernant noted there were many institutions across the province that operated in much the same way as residential schools, including the Charles Camsell Hospital in Edmonton that housed patients with tuberculosis from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, who in many cases were taken without their consent, died and were buried far from home.

“There are many places in Edmonton that have unmarked burials of Indigenous people,” Supernant said.

And, it could take between two to four years for a historian like Fraser to scan the archival material related to just one location, Fraser said.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of a residential school experience. Support is available at 1-866-925-4419.



Calls to Action by Tanya Talaga

I will simply repost this piece from Indigenous journalist Tanya Talaga. It says what I and so many people feel, and I think amplifying these important voices and heeding their calls is the best thing I can do as a settler-ally right now.


“We had concentration camps here.”

Those were the words of Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan.

He was speaking to the world on his phone from his car, at a press conference on Thursday that detailed the crimes against 751 children and possibly adults, whose headstones were silently, viciously removed at the Marieval Indian Residential School in the 1960s.

Canada may not have more than one million dead who were slaughtered and buried in killing fields, as they do in Cambodia. But make no mistake: Over the past 153 years, Canada has consistently used government policies – residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the prison system, “universal” health care and repeated ignorance of our people’s necessities of life – to make damn sure we are assimilated.


“We are seeing the result of the genocide Canada committed here. We will not stop until we find all of our children,” Mr. Cameron said.

In the 1990s, Canadian peacekeepers worked to end the genocide of the Tutsi people in Rwanda. We sent funding, supplies, and reporters to cover and document the crimes.

Yet Canada did nothing here.

Canada dumped our children and peoples in unmarked graves.

We can no longer ignore our past. The heinous one we have been telling you about in First Nations, Métis and Inuit songs, words, art and books and in Royal Commissions, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and countless inquests.


The past that too many Canadians refused to listen to. The past that writers at almost all of Canada’s main media outlets (except, of course, APTN) and politicians denied when they heard Canada had inflicted genocide – a message delivered not once, but twice, at both the TRC and the National Inquiry.

Canadians, now is the time to act. To face this country’s ugly truth. Now is not the time to celebrate Canada’s national birthday with red and white decorations, with draping a flag over your shoulders, with a long-weekend barbecue at a cottage on stolen land.

Find the lost, send them home – and for God’s sake, do not put a price tag on it.

The previously announced $27-million in federal funds – or, here in Ontario, a meagre $10-million – isn’t nearly enough. All the First Nations looking for their loved ones will have to scrap over it. This divide-and-conquer strategy has got to stop. Work with us. Do whatever it takes.

First, let Indigenous Peoples define where to look and what we need.

Why not appoint an Indigenous commissioner to go after all the records, using Canadian legislation to compel all levels of government, universities, hospitals and churches to release what they know?

Let Indigenous Peoples name and locate all those fields, former hospitals, cemeteries, those places where there is evidence of genocide.

They are not only buried in the rolling hills or uneven grounds surrounding the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where less than a month ago the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced that the remains of 215 children were found, or the former Marieval Indian Residential School in southeastern Saskatchewan and 137 other schools funded by the Canadian government but run by Christian churches.

We must locate all sacred burial spaces, which hold the clues to the secrets of what happened to all the lost, precious souls. We need to know if what happened was unspeakable abuse or murder, or benign neglect, malnourishment and a failure to medically treat those who were sick.

Do not forget the grounds of the nearly 1,300 other schools where survivors went – schools that were not part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007.

The numbers of our lost children will be astounding.

“The math isn’t hard,” said Marlene Poitras, the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Regional Chief. “If we continue to find our children in these numbers, we will see 70,000. Over 20 times more than the TRC naively assumed. This number does not count survivors. This number does not count those children whose remains are now entirely gone from this earth, for whom the country and the church have diligently tried to erase their memory.”

Evidence of genocide is also buried in unmarked graves in cemeteries across Canada. Our children, our people were sent to Indian hospitals, tuberculosis sanatoriums and asylums. When they died, many were scattered across the country, away from their homes, in unmarked graves.

One week ago, my friend, Travis Boissoneau, the Lake Huron region’s deputy grand council chief for Anishinabek Nation, contacted me after the news of the 215 found in Kamloops to say they had found that a girl named Emma Laffort had been buried at the St. Andrew’s Catholic Cemetery in Thunder Bay. She attended St. Joseph’s Indian Residential School and died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1910. Mr. Boissoneau thought she was from Garden River First Nation.

They wanted to locate exactly where she is in the cemetery, find her family and then bring her home. I said I would help.

Then, serendipity happened. A woman named Carol Hermiston contacted me on Facebook. She said she was looking for her great-aunt, Emma, whose father was from Garden River and whose mother was from Batchewana First Nation. Emma, Carol said, was the great-great-granddaughter of Chief Shingwauk, an Anishinaabe leader and founder of Garden River. A match was made. Now the family is working with both communities and Anishinabek Nation to bring Emma home.

Mr. Boissoneau is concerned that there are many other children buried in unmarked graves at St. Andrew’s. Records and the cemetery must be searched, along with the former sites of St. Joseph’s.

So when Mr. Cameron spoke, decked out in his orange T-shirt, from the driver’s seat of his car, it resonated. “We will also search all the sanatoriums, the Indian hospitals, all the spots,” he declared. “We won’t stop until we locate all of them.”

Stand with us, Canada.

Do what it takes.

Show the world you are who you portray yourself to be.

My deepest condolences…

Please click here if you need help with this grief and trauma: Indigenous Crisis Support Lines.

This past week the remains of 215 children were found at the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. It was an unmarked mass grave on Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation land.

I offer my deepest condolences and heartfelt grief to the families and communities these children belonged to. Like so many in Canada, I have been in mourning myself, and trying to find ways to mark these lives and offer support to Indigenous friends, colleagues, and family members. I have been holding my children extra tight and letting the tears fall.

The reaction of many settlers in Canada has been shock. I was not, unfortunately, shocked. The TRC’s Missing Children Project says over 4000 children died at the schools. Some estimates put it closer to 6000. These 215 children in Kamloops, unfortunately, are just the tip of the iceberg.

From the TRC’s Missing Children Project website

The work I’ve been doing on the Camsell Hospital the past seven years has also shown how easily and often Indigenous children and teens and adults could “disappear” from life and from the official record. And how hard it is to find that missing information and the remains of a loved one.

The sheer number of children in a mass, unmarked grave is what is shocking. It is once again rattling Canadians’ self-image as kind and polite. It is bringing up images of the mass graves at concentration camps in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It is bringing up that word so many of us have danced around for decades: genocide.

We have all been through so much during this past year of COVID, and I think we’ve been cracked open by the grief and trauma of this time. We have seen and experienced firsthand in our own families and communities what it is like to not be at a loved one’s side when they are dying or attend their funeral. We have collectively experienced ambiguous grief and pain piled on pain. At many times we have gotten frustrated, upset, angry, and hopeless.

This is the experience of so many Indigenous families, communities, and Nations. Not just because of this discovery or Covid, but for decades upon decades.

When we have dried our tears, gathered up the tiny shoes, and returned the flags to the tops of the masts, let us not forget how much work we need to do as settler-Canadians. Let us stay cracked open enough to be present with this past, with this call for action from beyond the grave.

Here are some links to learn more about this discovery, the process, and the history of residential schools:

Support this research!

When I first started doing this work I had grant money supporting my efforts, but unfortunately that is no longer the case. I try and do research for free as part of my reconciliation efforts, but that limits how much I can realistically do while keeping the lights on.

Please help me, help former patients, individuals, loved ones, and communities find answers. You can do this safely through my ‘Buy me a coffee’ account!

Any amount is appreciated!

2020 Update: Still Here!

I’ve had a few people get in touch and wonder if I’m still researching and writing about the Camsell. The answer is: YES!

It may not look like it from the number of times I’ve posted during the past couple of years, but I am constantly deepening my understanding of the issues involved – and my roles and responsibilities as a settler historian doing this work. It’s been five years since I first really started working in this area, and my thinking has been challenged (and often changed) at so many points along the way.

I continue to dig in archives, engage in community-based work, and make connections between media, researchers, family members, and former patients to help people find answers and foster more conversations around this important topic and lived experience.

Over the next few months, I expect to post more resources and links. In the meantime, please keep reaching out and I’ll do my best to help you find who and what you’re looking for. (Unfortunately at this time I can’t undertake full-time research quests to track down individuals, but the Nanilavut program has a lot of expertise and resources, and I will still try and guide you as best I can in your own process!).

Also, I would love to hear from you about what records you want access to and how you would like to be able to access them. I’m always thinking about this as I chat with archives and groups around Canada: where are these being stored? How can individuals and communities find them? And what are the privacy concerns around putting them online or out into the world?

More soon!