Earlier this week, the Mayor of the city of Gatineau in Ottawa, Canada, had warned that he would involve the police to get the protesters to leave so that construction work could proceed.
But in a sudden about-turn, the city issued a press release saying “Gatineau considers the various artefacts found (so far) to be a heritage gift and the city hopes to evaluate them in partnership with the native community”.
The city has now earmarked just over $70,000 for Archéotec, a Montreal archeology firm, to extend its investigations and will allow an independent First Nations observer, which was one of the protesters demands.
Roger Fleury, chief of off-reserve Algonquin people who has been leading the protest since early August, said he was baffled by the city’s approach throughout the whole process.
The only reason [the site is] still here is because of the teepees
Protesters had occupied the 3,000 year old site in Gatineau in early August and vowed to remain in a bid to save it from a $43 million waterfront re-development scheme, despite warnings that the police could be called in to force them out.
“I’m not leaving” Fleury had said on Wednesday, a day after the Mayor said it was time for the protesters to leave, warning that police could get involved.
Excavation at the site started in May when sewer workers found evidence of a native encampment including artefacts such as arrow tips, knives, fish bones and a wooden chisel from between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago.
Archaeologists were called in, but despite calls from First Nation representatives to continue excavation, the dig ended on July 10th and by early August, the site had been backfilled.
Work had already begun nearby on the $43 million waterfront re-development scheme, which includes street improvements and a multi-use riverside pathway and is receiving $10 million from the National Capital Commission.
A cradle of civilisation for our community
Aboriginal representatives gathered at the site and set up the camp to protest the city’s decision to fill in the dig. John Savage, a resident on the street under development and a spokesperson for aboriginal people who live in the area, said the archaeologists’ findings were substantial and that the site could be considered a “cradle of civilization for our community.”
The age of the site is a major concern for Fleury. “This isn’t yesterday. If this was 400 years ago, I wouldn’t mind. The French would be excited because they would’ve found something of Samuel de Champlain’s,” he said. “But it’s older than that. Lots of objects, from lots of eras, in great condition.”
A few weeks wasn’t enough for archaeologists to do the full extent of their work, he argued. People living here would’ve predated the Algonquins and Mohawks, he said: “These are our ancestors.”
“Had you gone further, what would you have found? They hurried up,” Fleury had said previously, arguing that they should “respect archaeological science, and respect our culture.”
Although a city spokesperson claims neighbourhood residents were consulted before the project was finalised, Savage said he was not aware of any First Nations representatives being consulted.
“They’re not thinking outside their box,” said Savage of bureaucrats working on the project. “They’re thinking inside their cubicle.”
Savage said a solution should be collaborative. Instead of filling in the dig, which he said could have big implications for the area’s history, the city could create an interactive site where residents and tourists could watch archaeologists conducting their work. There’s no need to simply pave the site over, he had argued.
The site has an unusual concentration of objects in good condition, said Fleury: “It’s a goldmine.”
“I’m sad that we have to be here with teepees to protect an archeological site when the city should be doing that. We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves,” adding that the focus has been on development rather than preservation.
Source: Ottawa Citizen
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