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Here's how Star Blanket Cree Nation plans to investigate 2,000 ground anomalies near former residential school


Leaders of the Star Blanket Cree Nation are deciding how best to investigate the 2,000 anomalies found by ground penetrating radar searches around the site of its former residential school.

Findings from the search, which started last fall, were announced on Thursday.

Around the site of the former Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology detected human remains, underground rooms and more than 2,000 anomalies underground.

“Does that mean there’s 2,000 unmarked graves? We don’t think so,” Sheldon Poitras, the ground search project lead for Star Blanket Cree Nation, said Thursday.

“GPR can’t definitively say that’s something. It could be a stone under the ground, it could be a clump of clay, it could be a piece of wood or it could be something. We don’t know yet.”

The ground search team, in partnership with AXIOM Exploration Group, has a tentative plan in place to determine what the hits are.

“There’s been discussions with AXIOM about doing miniature core drilling,” Poitras said.

“We’ll pick an area of interest, we’ll send a core drill down, collect a sample, bring it up and test that sample for DNA.”

Poitras said AXIOM is capable of doing that once all the technology and analysis equipment is gathered.

The search team is hopeful those steps will be taken by spring or summer.

Local knowledge keepers and elders have directed the team to avoid disrupting what could be under the ground as much as possible.

“That direction is, ‘if you find something, let it be,’” Poitras said.

“In order for us to confirm what it is under the ground, this is the best option that we came up with so that we don’t disturb what might be there. But at least we can determine whether it’s nothing or something.”

For searches going forward, Poitras said the church in Lebret has given the team access to the oldest part of its cemetery to train GPR equipment.

“If we take the GPR [to the cemetery], teach it what to look for in terms of old ground and cemetery, plug that data into our data, we can use the process of elimination to get rid of some of those dots,” Poitras said.

In addition to technology, leaders said they also hope to rely on nature to continue guiding them in the right direction during their searches.

Michael Starr, the chief of Star Blanket Cree Nation, credits gophers for helping to find the human remains.

“[Gophers] are the ones who excavated. They brought the remains on to the surface. That’s a form of validation, living with creation, living in our understanding of the animals and they helped us,” Starr said.

“It gives us an understanding on the work we’re doing, the further work we’re continuing to do. If there are remains here, we’ll probably find them.”

Thursday’s finding announcement was from the first of three phases of the search plan. The next two will be done at a later date. Top Stories

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