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Healing From the Past: S4's Subterra Grey Continues to Lead the Way in Unmarked Graves Search

In a significant step towards uncovering the hidden truths of Canada's tragic residential school history, the work between S4 and the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials has proven to be pivotal. Following our previous coverage of S4's Subterra Grey breaking ground in the search for unmarked graves , this follow-up article digs deeper into the ongoing efforts and outcomes of this project.


It is crucial to acknowledge the historical context of the Cowessess First Nation. In June 2021, the nation faced a heart-wrenching revelation when 751 suspected unmarked graves were discovered using ground-penetrating sonar. This haunting discovery shed light on the painful legacy of residential schools, underscoring the urgency and importance of efforts to honor and remember the lost children. The Cowessess First Nation, already grappling with the weight of this tragic revelation, became a pivotal location for subsequent initiatives aimed at uncovering the truth and providing closure. S4's involvement at this site, with the aid of Subterra Grey, represents a crucial precursor to continuing the journey of healing and commemoration initiated by the Cowessess First Nation.


The National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials serves as a guiding force for Indigenous communities seeking closure and commemoration for the missing children who suffered in residential schools. Comprising experts in Indigenous laws, cultural protocols, forensics, archaeology, archival research, criminal investigations, and communication, the committee operates with the guidance of a Circle of Survivors. Supported by the Government of Canada and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, their mission is to provide independent, trusted, and expert information for Indigenous efforts to identify, locate, and commemorate missing children.


S4’s Russell Pier, Dr. Clark, and Joshua Murphy have played integral roles in the collaborative efforts. Partnering with the Cowessess First Nation, the team worked tirelessly to uncover unmarked graves and burial sites using a combination of ground-penetrating radar (GPR), cadaver dogs, and S4's cutting-edge Subterra Grey technology.


The collaboration unfolded in Spring 2023, focusing on the Cowessess First Nation's spiritual effort to put the spirits of the buried children at rest and honor their memory. The project aimed to identify burial sites where children had been buried, died, or were missing. The methodology involved a multi-step process, starting with the use of cadaver dogs capable of detecting fats in the soil from decomposition. Subsequently, GPR was employed to 'X-ray' the soil, although this method proved challenging and less accurate. Finally, the introduction of S4's Subterra Grey marked a revolutionary advancement in the accuracy of identifying unmarked graves.


Subterra Grey's revolutionary technology goes beyond conventional methods, incorporating visible and infrared spectroscopy to offer unparalleled insights into soil composition. This advanced capability allows for the detection of fatty salts, which serve as enduring residue from burials, providing a crucial clue in the search for unmarked graves. By seamlessly integrating this dual-method approach with ground-penetrating radar (GPR), Subterra Grey significantly enhances the overall effectiveness of unmarked graves searches. The synergy between GPR and Subterra Grey not only improves accuracy but also provides a more comprehensive understanding of subsurface conditions, ensuring that historical truths are uncovered with precision and sensitivity. This cutting-edge technology represents a powerful tool in the ongoing efforts to bring closure, healing, and commemoration to Indigenous communities grappling with the painful legacy of residential schools.


Thanks to S4's involvement and the implementation of Subterra Grey, there is now cautious optimism surrounding the identification of new sites. The technology has proven to be significantly more accurate in detecting unmarked graves compared to previous methods. As a result, new sites will be explored using Subterra Grey, ensuring that the remains of the children are left at peace. The next steps involve creating new grave markers and implementing initiatives such as historical sites, museums, and monuments to honor the memory of the children who suffered in residential schools.


S4’s involvement with the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Burials represents a groundbreaking chapter in the pursuit of truth and reconciliation. The utilization of Subterra Grey as a technological solution has not only advanced the accuracy of uncovering unmarked graves but has also contributed to the broader efforts of healing and commemoration for Indigenous communities across Canada. The journey is ongoing, but with every breakthrough, we move closer to uncovering the full extent of the dark history of residential schools and fostering a path towards healing and reconciliation.

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