CAA Statement on Unmarked Graves at Former Residential Schools

Content warning: This statement deals with child death, colonialism, residential schools, genocide and intergenerational trauma.

The recent discovery of unmarked child graves at the Kamloops Residential School is a painful reminder of the horrors experienced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit children at these institutions across the land we now call Canada. Our hearts go out to the many survivors and families affected by these losses, and the loss of the many other children whose graves have yet to be located.

We acknowledge that the discipline of archaeology, and we as archaeologists, have been and continue to be complicit in the settler colonial project. At the same time, given the unique suite of methods and research skills of the discipline, archaeologists are uniquely positioned to support communities in locating their lost children through techniques such as ground penetrating radar. Many CAA members, including Indigenous archaeologists, are committed to working with Indigenous communities to meet their needs.

The CAA calls on all levels of government to implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), and in particular Calls 71-76 that relate to missing children and burial information. In 2015, the TRC called for the prompt identification and inventory of all former Residential School burial grounds across the country. They also called on governments to provide adequate funding for such efforts. The TRC directed that the work of documenting, maintaining, protecting and commemorating residential school cemeteries should be led by the affected communities and families, with guidance from residential school survivors and other Knowledge Keepers, and must respect Indigenous protocols ( This work must be undertaken with the utmost care and with the appropriate mental health supports because of the huge potential to re-traumatize Indigenous communities.

We encourage CAA members to contact their government representatives to urge them to take immediate action to implement these Calls and provide resources for coordinating a national Indigenous-led response, with the support of trusted experts. Find your local member of parliament here:

The CAA is committed to connecting Indigenous communities with the growing number of archaeologists in Canada with experience working with communities to locate unmarked graves at former residential school sites in an ethical and culturally appropriate way. We call on CAA members, if invited, to support this important work to the best of their ability, to be sensitive to these emotional contexts, and to be guided in their efforts by the principles laid out in the TRC Calls to Action. The CAA is developing a list of CAA members with experience in remote sensing and working with Indigenous communities that will be available on our website. If you would like to be added to the list, please complete this form.

To help communities make informed choices, the CAA, in partnership with the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology and the Canadian Association for Physical Anthropology, is developing a set of resources to assist Indigenous communities in learning about the archaeological and bioarchaeological methods that could help to locate, recover and learn about the lost children. We are also developing guidance on how to select qualified archaeologists and bioarchaeologists to work with. Our aim is to help to honour the lost children and take an important step towards the TRC’s vision of healing.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has resources for those who want to learn more about the history and legacy of the Canadian residential school system We encourage all Canadians to have conversations about it. The Indian Residential School Survivor’s Society needs our support to help those directly affected by residential schools. You can donate at

The Indian Residential School Survivors’ crisis line provides 24-hour support nation-wide at: 1-866-925-4419.

If you have been emotionally impacted by the news from Kamloops, please take care of yourself and reach out for help if needed.

Lisa Hodgetts

CAA President