Museum for Human Rights ignores graveyard below

Last Thursday on TGCTS, a Metis researcher told of the significant areas of the Forks which had served as a burial ground for aboriginals for a century, and his attempts to get the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to acknowledge this.


Museum champion, Gail Asper did not return David Carriere's call, delegating the task of blowing him off to a flunky.


"Elders" had assured the Museum millionaires that their location was not a burial ground as " we would not have buried so close to the banks of the river".


CMHR head cheerleader Gordon Sinclair of the Free Press also brushed off the concerns, based on assurances from the museum's handpicked aboriginal "experts" that enabled the pet project of millionaires to proceed unabated.


Carriere explained, because of the significant financial support of FN organizations such as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Metis Federation, if there was any notion that the construction was disturbing a native boneyard, there would be an uproar.


The truth about the bones beneath the floor was an inconvenient truth, for the human rights crowd of Manitoba.


Armed with extensive historical clippings and academic studies of the region, Carriere took his case to the vaunted Round Table consultations at the Forks in January, when CMHR officials ostensibly were asking for citizens to come forward with their ideas of which human rights stories the museum should tell.


As he described it, "THEIR JAWS WERE ON THE TABLE".


Carriere is not asking for construction of the Museum to stop.

He is not asking for existing structures to be torn down.

All he is asking for is a cairn, a plaque, a memorial, to allow visitors to the Forks and the CMHR to give pause and remember the exploitation of a native burial ground by land developers.


Apparently, for the Gail Asper's of the world, such an act would require too much time away from high-society hobnobbing and panhandling for donations from gullible school children and photo-op craving Premiers.


Carriere has yet to hear back about his suggestion from anyone connected to the Museum. Here is the letter he presented at the public session:


Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to propose that the Canadian Human Rights Museum consider the destruction and exploitation of the Aboriginal graveyard of “The Winnipeg Forks Region” as an important story of human rights violation.

The existence of the Aboriginal graveyard at The Forks was consistently described by early visitors to the area as “unusually large”. This was attributed to the smallpox epidemics of 1781-1782. During this time half of the areas aboriginal population died.

This area was used for burial from ancient times till at least 1874 (see photo dated 1874). During this time the number of burials would have been enormous. At times, the Red River flooded. During these floods, much of the surface evidence of the graveyard would be destroyed. Still, the significance of the graveyard as a landmark is evidence by the Selkirk settlers.


For example; On September 15th, 1817, the “Indian tombs” ½ miles south of Fort Douglas was described as the Southern boundary of their new constable’s jurisdiction (the north boundary being “7 Oaks”). It is likely though that most of the surface “tombs” were destroyed during the enormous flood of 1826. During this time it is said that very few surface structures (from within miles of the Red River) survived. This flood destroyed the fort at the forks which was later relocated to higher ground. Still, aboriginal people continued to bury their dead in this traditional graveyard.

After, Manitoba entered Confederation (1870); there became a huge emigration to Winnipeg. The cost of land in “down town” Winnipeg shot through the roof. Enormous profits could be made off land on main thoroughfares. The land South of Main Street and Portage Ave. was seen as too valuable to leave as an “Indian Burial Ground”. So, even areas that were recognized by all on lookers as an Aboriginal graveyard were “converted to other purposes”.


During this land development boom, a great number of aboriginal skeletons were unearthed. The citizens of Winnipeg were under no delusions. These remains were from “The Indian Burial Ground”. It was openly acknowledged in the newspapers of the time.


But, by then, the descendants of the buried were far away suffering on reservations. Some claimed that the aboriginals had abandoned the graveyard. And that gave them the right to use it as they saw fit. But, the separation of Canadian Aboriginals from their ancestor’s final resting place has historically been involuntary.

Some land within the old C.N. railyard is believed to be within the old graveyard. Some of these areas are not built upon. But, it is probably still the same story. The land is seen as too valuable to respect the Aboriginal dead.


David Carriere

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