Traditional knowledge & technology together find burial images

In August of 2021 Chief Sydney Halcrow of the Kapowe’no First Nation just north of High Prairie hired Dr. Kisha Supernand, a Metis/Papaschase/British woman who uses remote sensing technologies to help locate and protect unmarked burials at the request of First Nation communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is what is normally used for this work and is the most reliable technology being used today. Supernand uses this technology because other technologies are not designed to look for children’s graves that are small and shallow.

Supernand met and engaged with community members of Kapowe’no First Nation and spoke with elders and survivors of the St Bernard Mission School about which areas Dr. Supernand should concentrate the GPR search on.

After the community engagement a three-stage plan was developed to search around a large area of the school grounds. This area was of concern to survivors and phase one of the ground survey was conducted in October of 2021. It took six days to cover one acre of land using the ground penetrating radar and drone imagery. The information was analyzed and a report was submitted to the community in February 2022 and in March 2022 the announcement was made about the discovery of potential graves.

What makes Dr. Supernand different from others is that she understands and believes traditional knowledge and what the elders and community members have told her. Her first steps are always to check the archives, then speak to elders and community members as well as survivors. It is these conversations that led her to discover the images that were exactly where the survivors said they were.

Kapowe’no First Nation kept a list of the students who attended the school through the church archives and through survivors and community members traditional knowledge. Supernand would go through the list and community members pointed to where the graves could be.

The late elder Cecil Belrose worked on the grounds after the school was decommissioned and shared with Supernand some areas that he had seen and heard about where there were concerns about potential bodies being buried.  The area that Cecil Belrose had indicated was one area that the team concentrated on and the results showed a cluster of potential graves

The survivors have been telling their truths for so long and having this technology prove that what they’ve been saying all along is true is healing for the people. To have the technology to help prove their truths has made a big difference in the community. Some are angry but most are sad. Everyone hopes that they don’t find anything but they know that just isn’t the case.

Dr. Supernand also chairs the Unmarked Graves Working Group with the Canadian Archaeological Association. The group’s goal is to put out independent and reliable information about the data collection methods used in GPR.