Archeologist disputes native High Park claims

A native group has been occupying a section of High Park since Friday. They say a section of the park currently in use as a BMX track is an ancient native burial site. (Kimberly Gale/CBC)

An archeologist disputes a claim by a First Nations group that a section of Toronto's High Park being used for a BMX track is an ancient native burial site.

A native group has been camping in part of the southeast corner of the park since Friday. The group says the site is called Snake Mound and is a 3,000-year-old native burial ground.

But Ronald Williamson's company, Archaeological Services, conducted a study of the site for the city in 2009 and found no evidence it was ever used for native burials.

“These are not burial grounds at all," Williamson told CBC's Kimberly Gale. "These are hills, natural features. There’s no evidence at all that any of these hills were used for burial.

"While we're sensitive to the fact that of course there could be burial mounds in southern Ontario, we know where most of them are, we know what they look like, we know what their age is. The Iroquois didn't bury their dead in burial mounds."

The site in question is about 350 square metres in the southeast corner of High Park, east of Grenadier Pond and just north of the Queensway.

The area is known as the "bike pit" because of its informal use by BMX enthusiasts. Regular off-road bike riding has formed jumps and ramps in the area where the native activists are camping.

Camper Harrison Friesen, a Cree man living in Toronto and a member of the Red Power United Native Rights Movement, said his research suggests the site was used for native burials.

"I know in 1922 there was documentation of a native body being removed from the area," Friesen told CBC Radio's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning. "And our ancestors, our traditional leaders, have told us throughout our history that this is a sacred burial site."

Williamson, however, said the burial site is on the west side of Grenadier Pond and just south of Bloor Street, far from the site Friesen's group is occupying and beyond the boundaries of High Park.

Friesen is encouraging people to visit the site to learn more about it.

He said the occupation will remain peaceful and his group will pursue its own testing of the site.

"We've come in peacefully, we have a peace camp set up, we got a peaceful occupation underway. We have been working with the city. Even the Toronto city police have come around from time to time just to check it out."

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