Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cottage plan threatens sacred site: natives

By Carol Sanders

A proposal to develop cottage lots on Crown land on the Winnipeg River has neighbours and some members of the aboriginal community up in arms.

The area near Silver Falls is home to age-old rock placements or petroforms considered sacred in aboriginal culture, said area resident John Markert. The regional advisor to the province's historic resources branch said the planning district and the province have ignored petitions and letters expressing concern about the development of close to 30 cottage lots southeast of Pine Falls.

"It'd be just like if the government decided to build on a site of a church and not ask the congregation, and all of a sudden the congregation sees their place of prayer damaged," said Caroline Bruyere, a Sagkeeng First Nation member.

Native elders have toured the site and written to the province vouching for its historic and religious significance, said Markert. The petroforms were usually placed in remote areas and serve as reminders of the aboriginal teachings given to the first people by the Creator.

Elder Don Cardinal said the Silver Falls rock formations are part of a much larger petroform that has great historical and spiritual significance, and should be left as it is.

Bruyere said she hopes the province takes the elders' opinions seriously.

"It's part of my cultural history, part of my faith," Bruyere said. "They should have the same concern and respect."

Conservation Minister Stan Struthers said that the cottage lots won't be developed if it's found to be a sacred site. He encouraged people with concerns about the development to attend a meeting in the RM of Alexander on Oct. 5.

Markert said other historical sites along the Winnipeg River have been destroyed by development and the province has an opportunity in this case to preserve a significant one.

"That was our highway," said Bruyere. "There were certain stops where you'd do ceremonies for your travel, for your well-being and for a good hunting season and a good fishing season," she said.

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