The site of a former residential school where, last month, ground-penetrating radar detected a potential 751 unmarked graves in Cowessess First Nation, Sask., Tuesday, July 6, 2021. A group of Saskatchewan First Nations is beginning their search for unmarked graves at the grounds of the former Delmas/Thunderchild Indian Residential School.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

Ground-penetrating radar search for graves begins in Delmas, Saskatchewan

DELMAS, SASKATCHEWAN — A group of Saskatchewan First Nations is beginning their search for unmarked graves at the grounds of the former Delmas/Thunderchild Indian Residential School.

The Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs announced in June the plan to search the grounds for potential unmarked graves in the area 160 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The ground-penetrating radar search is to begin this morning with a smudge ceremony, and mental health counsellors and elders will be on-site for support.

The Delmas/Thunderchild school was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1901 to 1948, when it burned down.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found the school was overcrowded and many students became sick or died of typhoid, tuberculosis, jaundice, pneumonia and other illnesses.

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools between the 1860s and 1996.

The commission documented stories from survivors and families and issued a report in 2015 that detailed mistreatment, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It said there were at least 4,100 deaths.