CALGARY -- The work to search for and document Alberta's unmarked graves and deaths at residential schools will take "years," say those who are partnering with communities on the work.

The University of Alberta's Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology (IPIA) is using ground-penetrating technology and drones to search for unmarked burial sites. It's already partnered with five communities, including the Enoch Cree First Nation and Papaschase First Nation.

Professor Kisha Supernant, who is Métis, said more communities are reaching out after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops and 751 unmarked graves on the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan.

"We've had a pretty steady stream of inquiries and First Nations and Métis communities reaching out to us to talk about ways that they can start this (work)," Supernant said.

She called the news out of B.C. and Saskatchewan heartbreaking, but not surprising.

"I think there are many unmarked graves across many of these landscapes around residential schools, and there are other places where our relatives, our Indigenous relatives, are in unmarked graves and unprotected areas," she said.


On Wednesday, the Alberta Government announced $8 million in funding to search and document unmarked graves.

Searching the province could take a long time, Supernant said. Alberta was home to the most residential schools of any province or territory in Canada.

At least 134 schools are recognized in the country, 25 of them were here in Alberta between 1893 and 1996.

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"This is going to have to be addressed on a nation-by-nation basis, to have the community and the family members decided how they want to go forward," said Core Voyageur, a sociology professor at the University of Calgary.

"We can't take the process and the decisions out of the hands of the family and of the First Nations," she said.

Voyageur is a residential school survivor herself, having attended the Holy Angels Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alta.

Her research suggests there at least 4,200 students estimated to have died at Canadian residential schools.

"I'm fully expecting that we're going to find human remains in my own community, and this is going to impact my family and friends," Voyageur said.