By Clint Buehler
EDMONTON – The discovery of human remains has halted the extension of this city’s light rail transit (LRT) lines after Native activists intervened.
When the remains were first found, city officials claimed the remains were “historical,” and said there was no reason to halt work on the line.
But Native activists protested.
Gerald Delorme, a 48-yeart-old Cree, said that the bones probably belonged to one of his ancestors, and charged that authorities have a moral obligation to determine if any other bodies are buried in the area before continuing with their multi-million dollar transit project.
He said he wanted the area fully investigated. “Why do our ancestors have to have roads built over them, why do they have to have power plants built over them?”
Initially, the city said that construction would resume.
A day later, the city relented and halted construction until an archeologist can be hired to supervise the work. That news was met with relief by Joyce Bruneau, a councillor with the Papaschase First Nation, which claims the area and much of southwest Edmonton as its historical land. She also fears that the remains may belong to one of their ancestors.
Papaschase descendants claim the federal government forced the band to dissolve through a series of manoeuvres beginning in 1880, mostly by making them members of other bands with reserves of their own.
Bruneau says genealogical studies show there may be more than 5,000 direct living descendants of the original Papaschase. Those descendants go before the Supreme Court of Canada in February to fight for compensation and a new reserve outside of the city. “Because there may be other bodies around, they should be very careful when they’re excavating,” Bruneau says.
In announcing the stoppage of construction, Wayne Mandryk, the city’s transit projects manager, said they are “erring on the side of caution so that, should any further remains be discovered, they will be handled with dignity. Regardless of the ancestry of these remains, the city is respectful of the history and meaning of the area,” Mandryk said.
The stoppage will be restricted to the area where the remains were found and will be under the scrutiny of an archeologist. Mandryk says crews will be careful not to remove any more earth than necessary, and the first six feet of excavation will be closely monitored by the archeologist.
The situation is reminiscent of the discovery of graves with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal remains during road construction a few years ago in the city’s Rossdale Flats area in the midst of the city.
After numerous protests by Aboriginal activists and lengthy negotiations with the city, the road was rerouted around the site, the remains were reburied, and the city agreed to erect a $1.5 million monument to those buried there which is not yet fully completed.