Edmonton gondola route could disrupt historic burial grounds, lands sacred to Indigenous peoples

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The route of a proposed gondola over the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton would be built over historic sites and the Chief of the Papaschase First Nation is concerned that traditional burial grounds will be disturbed.

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A board committee is due to consider a conditional agreement with Prairie Sky Gondola (PSG) Wednesday morning to lease and license public land for about $1.125 million a year for 30 years, and up to 90 years. The approximately 2.5 kilometer route would run from downtown to Old Strathcona with five stations.

A proposed station is in the Rossdale area, just north of the river. The proposed route shows several towers that would be built on or near historic sites already identified by the city and province, and provincially registered cultural resources, including what is known as Fort Edmonton Cemetery. Human remains have been unintentionally unearthed several times during excavations in the area since the 1970s.

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Papschase chief Calvin Bruneau said the Rossdale Plains area is a “very historic and sacred site” and he does not want council to approve the deal as it stands.

“There’s going to be a chance that they could come across human remains again. That’s always a possibility there, because the site has been so desecrated,” he said on Tuesday. like my pocket and I have ancestors buried there, so it’s very personal to me… We’re not happy that they want to build where they (plan).

While the conditional land agreement with the city would require PSG to conduct public consultations — and there would be archaeological requirements under Alberta’s Historic Resources Act — Bruneau said affected Indigenous peoples should have been involved. much earlier in the process.

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“The people at the gondola haven’t contacted me to ask my thoughts and consult me… We don’t have prior informed consent,” he said. “It was our traditional land. We signed Treaty 6 with Canada and the Crown and moved to the south side. This is a very important area for us. »

Matthew Weigel, who is Dene and Métis, is one of many Indigenous people who have taken to social media to speak out against the proposed gondola route.

He told Postmedia he was devastated when he realized the gondola could go ahead and potentially disrupt where his ancestors are buried.

“I can’t believe I have to have this conversation in the first place. I can’t believe we’re talking about digging up my grandmother so I can move her body if necessary, to make room for literally anything,” he said. “It’s incredibly saddening to have to justify my humanity, my stories and the presence of my ancestor.”

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The route proposed by the proponent shows that a station and towers would be built on or very close to the traditional cemeteries previously discovered.

But even though the route excludes the known boundaries of Fort Edmonton Cemetery, an earlier land use study for the city indicates that the exact boundaries of these burial sites are undetermined. In fact, bodies have been dug up after construction around this area in the past.

The same city report gives guidance on how to proceed for any future projects in the area. He says there should be effective consultation with stakeholders during the planning phases of the project so that those discussions can inform the plans themselves.

“It is recommended that these processes be inclusive and transparent, and that sufficient time be allocated to ensure they are completed before plans are finalized, and that they inform those plans,” the report said.

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PSG CEO Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson has declined an interview request. Instead, he sent a statement saying elders and Indigenous leaders would speak as part of the council delegation on Wednesday.

“Prairie Sky Gondola took our relationships with Indigenous elders, leaders and professionals connected to our project very seriously from the outset…It is important to all of us that our Indigenous friends speak for themselves,” Hansen said. – Carlson.

According to Postmedia records, the land on the ancient plains of the North Saskatchewan River is home to up to 200 bodies.

The North Saskatchewan River was the main transportation route in the region, and the plains along the river served as gathering places for Indigenous peoples long before the first European fur traders built posts.

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