Indigenous leaders say province didn't properly consult on designation of new heritage site

·6 min read
This portion of a hand-drawn map, from the province's archives, shows the Lower Hudson House. It is located in the Nisbet Provincial Forest about 35 kilometers west of Prince Albert and operated from 1779 to 1787 as an important trading center for First Nations residents and as a post for provisioning fur traders. (Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan - image credit)
This portion of a hand-drawn map, from the province's archives, shows the Lower Hudson House. It is located in the Nisbet Provincial Forest about 35 kilometers west of Prince Albert and operated from 1779 to 1787 as an important trading center for First Nations residents and as a post for provisioning fur traders. (Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan - image credit)

Indigenous leaders say the Government of Saskatchewan did not do proper consultation before designating Lower Hudson House as a provincial heritage property.

"With the site and any of its artifacts now belonging to the Crown and the province, it's anything but truth and reconciliation," said David Rondeau, a community-oriented historian who has worked on the site for years and is also consultation co-ordinator for Crutwell Métis Local 66.

The house, located in the Nisbet Provincial Forest about 35 kilometres west of Prince Albert, operated from 1779 to 1787 as an important trading centre for First Nations residents and as a post for provisioning fur traders. It is Saskatchewan's 56th provincial heritage site.

Victims of the 1781-82 smallpox epidemic are believed to be buried in the area.

Submitted by David Rondeau
Submitted by David Rondeau

Rondeau said Lower Hudson House remained undisturbed for more than 200 years, but that could change due to the heritage designation. He and others are concerned the move could bring treasure hunters and others who have no business being there.

"These sites are the birthplace of Métis people. We weren't consulted. The neighbouring Sturgeon Lake First Nation's very existence is engrained in this fort and they weren't consulted," Rondeau said.

"We were clear in our position that we weren't in favour. Our silence has been taken as consent."

Rondeau said he contacted Philip Parr and Peter Burns — who nominated the site for designation more than a year ago — and the province's heritage branch with these concerns.

Rondeau said Prince Albert city council and the RM of Shellbrook were consulted about the designation.

"Neither one of these had any historic connection or jurisdiction on the site."

David Rondeau
David Rondeau

Philip Parr said the group working on the designation reached out to Métis locals and Sturgeon Lake First Nation, among others.

"We didn't receive any letter of support from Sturgeon Lake, so we moved on. We didn't contact any chiefs because for us it was more of a cultural process than political," Parr said.

"Our purpose was to support memorialization and commemoration of the gravesites and the site itself."

With the designation announcement, Parr said the "ship has sailed" on consultation. He said the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment is now responsible for the site.

"All members of the public should have access to it. No decisions have been made yet on what to do with the site," he said.

"Our long term goal is to educate people and serve reconciliation."

'Opposite of reconciliation': chief

Christine Longjohn, chief of Sturgeon Lake First Nation, said the province's move is "disheartening," as her nation was not consulted.

"We aren't in agreement. It's a direct violation of our treaty rights and of UNDRIP, Article 11. Once again, we've been left out," she said.

"Anything within 100 kilometres of our nation is our jurisdiction and the site is just 22 kilometres away."

Asked about Parr's comments about consulting Sturgeon Lake, Longjohn said that's not how the consultation process works.

United Nations
United Nations

Longjohn said the site has been a burial ground for their ancestors.

"We don't exploit our graveyards. Our relatives are laying there. We've kept it untouched all these years."

Chanss Lagaden/CBC
Chanss Lagaden/CBC

Magnus Twatt worked for the Hudson's Bay Company for 30 years until his death in Saskatchewan in 1801. Magnus's son, William Twatt, was a signatory of Treaty 6, which established the reserve at Sturgeon Lake, and became the reserve's chief.

Shellbrook resident David Bodvarson recently discovered that Magnus's daughter, Elizabeth Twatt, was his great-great-grandmother.

"We're connected to William Twatt, who was the chief of Sturgeon Lake First Nation," Bodvarson said. "I'm perplexed to see they didn't consult me or my relatives."

Charlene Lavallee, president of the Association of Métis, Non and Status Indians of Saskatchewan, said she was angered by the announcement.

"We keep saying nothing about us, without us, but this is a prime example of how traditionally it has been," she said.

"It's the typical colonial paternalistic mentality."

Chanss Lagaden/CBC
Chanss Lagaden/CBC

Lavallee is worried the site will face the same fate as Batoche, which fell victim to foraging intruders. She said Lower Hudson House should have received the same level of study as Budd Mission before the designation.

"This is the opposite of reconciliation and inclusion."

Potential harm to the gravesites

Rondeau said there are approximately 30 graves at the location.

"Local First Nations flocked there looking for medicines. Smallpox decimated our people, some bands went extinct," Rondeau said.

Chanss Lagaden/CBC
Chanss Lagaden/CBC

Rondeau said he used to visit the site four times each summer, but now has been visiting thrice a month to ensure nobody is desecrating the site.

He and others were enraged by a nearby newspaper's decision to release a map detailing the site's whereabouts, saying it will attract treasure seekers.

"They claim that they want to protect the site with heritage designation, but their first act has endangered it. These sites are like forensic sites and you shouldn't invite the public," Rondeau said.

"We've installed some cameras so that nobody can dig there."

Travis Reddaway/CBC
Travis Reddaway/CBC

Terence Clark, an archeology professor at University of Saskatchewan, said the location should have been kept concealed.

Clark said historic sites attract unscrupulous treasure seekers, and that Indigenous people whose heritage is being "discovered" should have led the way.

"This is not how sites should be protected in the province. It should start with the community as there could be mass graves," he said.

"We had plans to go there with ground penetrating radar to locate subsurface features and cemeteries, but the paper released details [and now] anyone with the faint idea of history can get intrigued to get finds for their mantels or sell on eBay."

He said such people can be prosecuted under the Heritage Act, but no one in the province has been penalized yet.

Consultation process should be under review: treaty commissioner

Mary Culberston, the treaty commissioner of Saskatchewan, said the province's consultation policy is "very much lacking."

Culbertson said free, prior and informed consent does not exist in the province, despite UNDRIP being adopted by the federal government. She said the legislation is presently under review.

Submitted by David Rondeau
Submitted by David Rondeau

The Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport said in an email statement that the nomination for Lower Hudson House was accompanied by letters of support, including from First Nations and Métis communities.

"While no formal community consultation is required for the designation of heritage property, Heritage Conservation Branch officials encourage nominators to engage with and seek input from the community, including the appropriate Indigenous community," the statement said.

"The designation of this property followed the formal designation process that included publishing notices in local newspapers and providing opportunities for any individual to formally object to the proposed designation. No formal objections were received, so the designation process was completed."

Culberston said the current consultation process is one-sided.

"A letter or fax sent to a band or community office is their understanding of due consultation," she said.

"These sacred sites shouldn't be open to tourism. A knowledge keeper told me that once you dig up graves of smallpox, you bring the virus back to the world."

LISTEN | Tom Richards, executive director of the Heritage conservation branch with the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport, spoke with host Garth Materie about Lower Hudson House on the Afternoon Edition: