Monday, August 24, 2009

A spade is a spade

"The old Indian burial ground in rear of Grace Church [SE corner of Main and Water Ave.] is being converted to other purposes, and the spade of the invader has turned up skeletons of the red man, and flint, steel and red paint, etc., with which he was provided when departing to the happy hunting grounds." - Manitoba Free Press, May 19, 1877

"Because the site has cultural significance to the aboriginal people of the region, a medicine bag is placed in each of the 505 foundation holes that have been excavated, then filled with steel rebar and concrete." - Winnipeg Free Press, August 24, 2009

In a letter to the Association of Manitoba Archaeologists, adjunct professor of Archaeology Dr. E. Leigh Syms writes that "[t]he large number of artifacts recovered from this tiny area will have been catalogued for storage but will be lying unnumbered in plastic bags in boxes and therefore virtually unusable and inaccessible, probably deep in the sub sub basement of HRB’s storage facility. [...]

"First Nations consultation apparently consisted of meeting with the Thunder Bird House urban elders. One of my elder colleagues who is a senior administrator at Thunder bird House has little use for archaeology and stated cynically that
'the record should be left in the ground for a 1,000 years until archaeologists learn how to analyze the materials'. [...]

"There appears to have been no consultation with the other First Nations sectors such as communities, teachers, students, and others who might be interested in their ancient heritage. [...]

"During processing, the staff did an excellent job of cataloguing the collections but they were not allowed to number the artifacts or even glue rim sherds that were found together. This decision was made due to the need to set priorities in a very limited, inadequate budget. [...]

"Unlike other provincial heritage branches which insist on the careful excavation of squares over and around the piling holes, these holes will be augured out, which we know from other excavations results in large numbers of broken items."

A spade is a spade. No matter what gets thrown down the holes; it is still a violent disruption of unknown artifacts, and possibly relics.

Oddly enough, many of the people who shrug off (or simply don't know) the area's importance in favor of getting the museum built, are the same winners who could not bear the thought of an apartment block's shadows darkening the "sacred ground" at Upper Fort Garry. Somehow, the buildings as retainers of buried artifacts argument does not apply to buildings not erected in the name of "human rights"--quickly becoming post-Modernity's most bastardized, entropic hocus-pocus of a concept--or by an out-of-town developer that is not part of Winnipeg's inbred coven of leading citizens.

The question is not should development ever happen on sites that were used for different people in the past (even for sacred purposes), but it is whether or not the past can be trivialized, contorted, and ignored--as it presently is by the CMHR. No one knows excatly what is buried beneath the soil at the H.B.Co. Flats, but it is clear from Aboriginal tradition, old newspaper accounts, and from the preliminary archaeology digs, that it was an immensely important place.

To feign sincerity by throwing a medicine bag down a hole, or to justify it by getting the stamp of approval from dubiously appointed "elders" of an allegedly corrupt, and certainly barely solvent and unqualified organization (why didn't the CMHR just ask the staff at the Dakota Tipi gas bar? They're Aboriginal. Isn't that enough?), is insulting to the history of The Forks, and to more than a thousand years of Aboriginal cultures in this region.

At least in 1877, there was honesty.

(See also: letter to Arni Thorsteinson by Dr. Gregory G. Monks of the University of Manitoba's Anthropology department.)


Blogger D. Sky Onosson said...

Wow. Just, wow.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Fat Arse said...

Look, what don't you understand? It's really very simple. The 'idea' of Human Rights will always trump the true history of those who have come before us.

What do expect them to do? If they can't even get a frickin' budget together properly - how can you expect them to be responsible when it comes to the facts of the past!

Jesus, after all, this project is really not about the 'museum' aspect (i.e. the history) - it's about vanity! Old bones be damned!

12:49 AM  
Blogger 1ajs said...

oye... why are not they getting students in doing the work catiloging it and doing a paper as their major or somthing students in this case are a big asset someone realy droped the ball here lalalalalalalalalalala screw it no one truely cares

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is not should development ever happen on sites that were used for different people in the past (even for sacred purposes), but it is whether or not the past can be trivialized, contorted, and ignored

The simple answer is - YES - if you hold the "money".

6:32 AM  

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