‘Very important artifacts’: Sask. First Nations want road project stopped

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WATCH: FSIN calls for a halt to road construction after multiple artifacts found – Jun 7, 2019

A Saskatchewan road project where Indigenous artifacts were found should be stopped, according to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs (BATC).

The FSIN and BATC want “immediate action” to halt the roadwork in favour of more consultation, according to FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.

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“We will do anything we can, and all that we can to put an immediate halt to this – to protect and preserve that part of the province, that it becomes a sacred heritage site,” Cameron said.

Three artifacts were discovered in the Rural Municipality of Winslow eight months ago, according to Sheldon Wuttunee, the head of the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre of Excellence.

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Ancient pottery was pulled from the top layer of the earth. A cairn, a pile of identifying rocks, was also discovered.

Some volcanic, obsidian rock was found in the ground as well. Wuttunee said further study revealed the only other location for such rock is in Yellowstone National Park.

“It really shows the length that we travelled [and] the trade networks that we had in place,” Wuttunee said.

The oldest item could date back 10,000 years.

“They’re very important artifacts,” he said.

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Wuttunee said he received a call from farmer Jim Gilroy on May 28, telling him that he saw graders on the land where the items were found. He also said a fire guard has been cut into the sensitive area.

While First Nations leaders call it a new road, the RM of Winslow called the project “a road widening on an existing road that the municipality owns.”

As a result of the public attention on the construction, RM crews won’t be doing work on June 10 as previously scheduled. Council members hope to build more than three kilometres of gravel road at the location in 2019.

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The RM is complying with all provincial requirements and no construction is planned for June, according to a statement from the RM office bearing Reeve Sheldon McLean’s signature.

“Council will take this month to review how to move ahead in an appropriate manner with the development of this existing municipal road.”

BATC director Neil Sasakamoose said the Saskatchewan government’s Heritage Conservation Branch should not have given the project the green-light following the discoveries.

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“First Nations, we never encroach on anyone’s territory when it comes down to items of that significance,” Sasakamoose said.

The work has left Sasakamoose “embarrassed for Saskatchewan.”

Saulteaux First Nation Chief Kenny Moccasin said it was disturbing that the RM and province didn’t consult with First Nations before construction.

“We can’t continue to let industry plow over the history of our people,” Moccasin said.

Saskatchewan legislation doesn’t require the province to consult with First Nations for discoveries of this magnitude, according to Candace Caswell, assistant deputy minister of stewardship with the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.

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If burial sites or more significant artifacts were uncovered, the processes would have been different, she explained.

“The RM actually followed all the processes that are required for a project like this,” Caswell said.

An archaeological firm assessed the area, and provincial officials are “fairly confident” all historically significant items have been found and protected, Caswell said.

The RM of Winslow is approximately 150 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon.

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