After months of Indigenous advocates demanding the grounds of the former Charles Camsell hospital be searched, the first phase of excavation work to uncover suspected burial sites wrapped up Friday.

The two-day search has been busy and suspenseful for excavators and members of the Papaschase First Nation.

“We’re investigating to see if there are any burials that might have been overlooked and we’re trying to discover them,” said Gene Dub, Inglewood Gardens principal architect.

Excavation work began Thursday on the site of what was known as the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital.

It explored 11 sites that were identified through the use of ground-penetrating radar. Members and an elder of the Pappaschase First Nation were on site observing the work to make sure it was being done carefully and respectfully.

“Elders have always said from about there to the trees and all the way back, that’s where you’re going to find the human remains,” Papaschase First Nation Elder Fernie Marty said, referencing an area yet to be search.

This first phase found only building materials and debris, but the search is far from over.

“I’m just happy that there wasn’t anything found so far, but you know there’s still more that has to be done,” Papaschase First Nation councillor Shiela Desjarlais said.

“We have only done one-third of the site and we’re looking to do another couple of acres so we’re going to continue exploring this matter,” Dub said.

The Camsell hospital institutionalized many Indigenous people and especially those who had tuberculosis or other debilitating health concerns.

While people were hospitalized they went through the residential school curriculum and schedule, even though they were confined to their beds.

“Back in 2008 we had three reports done that showed there were no burials on this site, but that is just recorded burials,” Dub said.

But after the discovery of unmarked graves at other residential schools in Canada, the project lead and architect for the planned development wanted to make sure there are no burials.

The next area to be searched with ground-penetrating radar has been selected, but that work won’t start until funding is secured.

The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

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