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Sipekne'katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack in Indian Brook, N.S., on May 27, 2021.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Noiva Scotia’s Sipekne’katik First Nation says it will begin an investigation this weekend of the grounds of the former Shubenacadie Indian Residential School.

In a news release, Chief Mike Sack says the work has been “top of mind” for many years, and the recent discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., has brought a “renewed sense of urgency.”

The work will be carried out by Jonathan Fowler, an associate professor with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and a leading researcher in archeological geophysics and remote sensing.

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The band says Dr. Fowler will focus his investigation on the former school grounds to determine if there is any burial evidence on site by using several techniques including ground-penetrating radar.

He will be working directly with community member and Mi’kmaq cultural heritage curator for the Nova Scotia Museum, Roger Lewis, as a co-investigator.

The Kamloops residential school’s unmarked graves: What we know about the children’s remains, and Canada’s reaction so far

Dorene Bernard, a Mi’kmaq elder, confirmed Tuesday that ground-penetrating radar was used at the site in April and December of last year, but no graves or human remains were found. She said more investigation was planned.

Previous research by Dr. Fowler includes the successful mapping of burials associated with the 1873 sinking of the SS Atlantic and the identification of nearly 300 unmarked graves in the pre-expulsion Acadian cemetery at Grand-Pre National Historic Site.

“Our hearts remain with the people of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation [in British Columbia] as we all continue to grapple with the impacts of the residential school system on Indigenous people across Canada,” Sack said. “The prospect of a similar discovery in our community is difficult to consider, but we must fully assess the site.”

The Shubenacadie school in central Nova Scotia was opened by the federal Department of Indian Affairs in 1930. Students were taken from all three Maritime provinces and the Restigouche reserve in Quebec.

The institution was operated by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Halifax until 1956, and was only school of its type in the Maritimes.

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