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USask researchers use FBI technology to find unmarked graves at residential school sites

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are being recognized for helping to find unmarked graves using FBI investigative technology.

Micaela Champagne, a USask archaeology graduate student, said her team is using ground-penetrating radar to detect pockets or spaces underground to find unmarked graves around residential schools.

“In one aspect, we are being recognized by a federal institution that at one point did create these systems of residential schools in assimilation, but at the same time, we are being recognized for the work and making sure that these survivor voices are being truly upheld, uplifted and that these truths are going to be known to a wider public,” Champagne said.

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Champagne is the granddaughter of a residential school survivor.

The team is one of six receiving the Governor General’s Innovation Award, according to USask.

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The technology has been used by law enforcement and archaeologists and can help find unmarked graves or areas of interest for excavation.

The technology is used in tandem with cadaver dogs or soil spectroscopy to narrow down potential areas with unmarked graves. Champagne said the graves were usually dug by the same person in a given area, making it easier to identify where victims came from once a site is identified.

She said the technology is accurate and crucial to spreading awareness of what happened in residential schools.

“This is a way for them to tell their story to non-Indigenous people,” Champagne said.

Katie Willie, part of the research team, said that’s why their work is important.

“We’re really just amplifying what people have been saying for decades,” Willie said.

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

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