Skip to main content

More than 2,000 anomalies found during radar search of former Sask. residential school site, officials say


Warning: This story contains details some readers may find disturbing.

Star Blanket Cree Nation said it has located over 2,000 anomalies after completing phase one of a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) search at the site of the former Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School.

“Our hearts are heavy today, this has been a very emotional journey for all of us,” Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr said.

The anomalies found have not been confirmed to be human remains and could be stones, soil or pieces of wood, according to Sheldon Poitras, Star Blanket's ground search project leader.

However, Poitras also said on Oct. 2, they discovered a jaw bone fragment believed to be 125 years old from a child who was five or six years old at the time.

"This is physical proof of an unmarked grave," he said.

Poitras said that has been confirmed by File Hills Police Service and the Saskatchewan Coroners Office.   

Chief Starr said the discovery of the fragment is very significant.

“This discovery has changed everything, it’s changed the things that we’re going to do, it’s changed our mindset, it’s changed our way of life in a way,” he said.

“We are moving with what we found and we will bring honour to the remains, that of a young child.”

Poitras said during the search, they also discovered underground tunnels or rooms.

"The scan has produced more than one room," he said.

"A lot of those pieces are starting to come together, the data and the stories are matching up and we find that very interesting, very overwhelming, and motivates us to continue with the searching."

He said they also did some test scanning of the water when it was frozen last winter.

"We did achieve some areas of interest but as they went out further, it got harder for the signal to travel clearly," he said.

He said they will continue work to find out the specifics of the anomolies announced on Thursday.

"There's been discussions with AXIOM about doing miniature core drilling," he 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."

The search, conducted by AXIOM Exploration Group, began on Nov. 8, 2021 and will cover more than 55 acres of land once fully complete.

According to Poitras, phase one of the search included the immediate area and all the flat land around the site of the former school grounds.

"We do plan to go [search] off site and have 50 per cent commitment from the landowners in the seminary areas," Poitras said.

He said they have also heard from former residential school survivors on other potential areas of interest.

"We took a lot of that information and we sent AXIOM to those specific areas. We want to scan the seminary area, there's a place called Ghost Town and there's a lot of stories associated with that," Poitras said.

"There's a lot of areas off site where we have to work with the landowners moving forward in the different phases off the reserve. We have to meet with these landowners and gain their permission to search the area and see what we can find."

According to Poitras, there are two extremes of willingness from landowners, some that are willing to do whatever they can to help with the project and others who are more reserved and would prefer to not get involved.

"Both these extremes have land that we are interested in [searching]," Poitras said. "It's going to take some tactics and some diplomacy to get everyone on the same page in the coming days," he added.  

The site of the former residential school is located in the village of Lebret, Sask. about 80 kilometres northeast of Regina.

The school initially opened in 1884 and was expanded in 1887, 1889 and 1895.

In 1951, the school was one of the first residential schools to offer high-school education. It also allowed Aboriginal languages in its early years of operation, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation said.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the school had a high death rate.

After its first nine years of operation, the school claimed to have discharged 174 students, 71 of whom had died.

The institution closed in 1998 after operating for 114 years.


Premier Scott Moe, NDP leader Carla Beck and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all took to social media to express their feelings and offer support.

“I was saddened to learn of the remains of a child at the site of a former residential school in Lebret, the Star Blanket Cree Nation has the full support of the government at this difficult time,” Moe said in a tweet.

Moe also said that residential schools represent a dark period in Canada’s history, acknowledging that many residents of Saskatchewan continue to hurt to this day.

“We need to stand by them and help in every way we can,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck also released a statement that her heart goes out to the community and to all survivors and their families during these difficult times.

“There are many emotions but we cannot allow ourselves to become numb. In this difficult time, we must ensure the community of Star Blanket Cree Nation and every other Nation doing this work have the resources they need to bring these truths to light,” part of Beck’s statement said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was saddened and disturbed by the finding of a child’s remains along with potential unmarked graves.

“To members of Star Blanket Cree Nation: We’re thinking of you. We’ll be there every step of the way,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

With files from CTV News’ Creeson Agecoutay, Nelson Bird, and Caitlin Brezinski. 


If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous Peoples are available here. Top Stories

Stay Connected