Rossdale Burial Grounds
New Walterdale Bridge construction leaves unanswered questions
Members of the Papaschase First Nations Band have demonstrated recently at the north end of Walterdale bridge on the site of a memorial and burial ground that will be affected by construction of a new bridge and access roads. Chief Calvin Bruneau outlines his and his band’s objections, why they are concerned, and what they think needs to be done to make up for the lack of consultation.
I was born in Bonnyville, Alberta. My parents are Ray and Joyce Bruneau. My late grandmother was Maryanne Desjarlais (John) from Kehewin. I've mainly lived in Edmonton but it wasn’t until 1995 that I found out that I was a member of the Papaschase Band and a descendant of Chief Papaschase.
My family and I joined a group who sought to redress the Papaschase case. The band lost their reserve in the late 1880's, when the Canadian government took a surrender by three men of the Papaschase Band. This was illegal and unlawful, since the Indian Act of the day states that a surrender must be agreed to by a majority of members of the affected band. This did not happen. The govt was supposed to call a second meeting to get the rest of the members to vote but no such meeting was called.
The land was sold to immigrant farmers and was eventually developed by the City of Edmonton. This supposedly surrendered land is on the south side of Edmonton, roughly 40 square miles. The north boundary is 51 Avenue, the east boundary is 34 Street, the south boundary is 30 Avenue South and the west boundary is 119 Street. These reserve boundaries were surveyed by government surveyors starting in 1880 and completed in 1884. Another survey was done in 1891.
We filed a claim in 2001, but it was overturned in 2008. Of course we don’t agree with that decision and are pursuing other means to settle our case. We're in the right so we will win eventually.
Before the reserve was chosen, Chief Papaschase and his people lived on what is known today as Rossdale Flats, by Telus Field and Epcor’s power plant. They lived there before they signed Treaty Six at Fort Edmonton on August 21, 1877. The fort was located where present-day legislature grounds are.
Over 30 Papaschase people were buried in what was called St. Joachim's cemetery, located today on the corner of 105 street and River Valley Road, just north of Walterdale Bridge. The Papaschase council became aware of this burial ground when Epcor wanted to expand its power plant, next to the burial grounds.
We, along with other concerned citizens, fought to stop this expansion, starting in 2000. We stopped the expansion, and we started stakeholder meetings with the city administration. We had a portion of Rossdale Road closed that ran over the burial ground. We had a monument built to our ancestors. People who were taken out of the burial site were repatriated. The burial ground was registered as a cemetery in 2005, giving it provincial protection.
In the stakeholder meetings the City staff mentioned that they needed to replace Walterdale Bridge. We agreed to continue meeting to discuss the replacing of the 100-year-old bridge. That didn’t happen. The City's transportation department started planning without the stakeholders and descendants. The City consulted some elders and a few people from the Aboriginal community and went ahead with their plans.
The Transportation Department started planning the replacement bridge in 2009, but it didn’t meet with anyone until 2010. It was only in 2011 that the Papaschase First Nation heard of these plans, but by then it was too late. The plans were brought to City Council in early 2011 and approved before any real consultation could happen. It was a done deal.
The Papaschase Council was of course frustrated by this lack of consultation. The Province's Alberta Culture and Community Spirit department stepped in and said that up to 21 Aboriginal groups from the Treaty 6, 7 and 8 areas, including Papaschase Band, Michel Band and the Métis Nation should be consulted. The Papaschase Chief and council weren’t consulted until mid-2011, after we held a protest for lack of consultation in early 2011.
The City has asked us what to do in case human remains are found on the north or south side of the North Saskatchewan River. We basically said we'll deal with it when it happens.
I have repeatedly asked the City to have all First Nations involved in the consultation process sit in one big meeting, but they refuse. We would like to hear what our brothers and sisters say about what to do with human remains, if they are found and what to do with the Belvedere interpretive panels that stand in the way of the new bridge. The Belvedere and panels would have to be relocated to make way for the bridge, but no group consultation has taken place. Just individual bands have been asked what should be done.
We've feel that we have been lied to, and this project has been rushed with minimum First Nation/Aboriginal consultation. This is not the way of our people. We sit in a council, discussing issues and making decisions as a group. The City doesn’t respect this. They prefer divide and conquer tactics
In some ways I want to fight them tooth and nail and get them to put that bridge elsewhere. In other ways I just want to protect what is there. The burial ground needs to be protected at all costs. The bridge project can be delayed if human remains are found. But what will our First Nation/Métis brothers and sisters decide?
That is something to consider. Papaschase have the most people buried there. What do we decide? That is what the First Nations, Métis, City and Province have to keep in mind. That is our land and our burial ground to protect, so Papaschase's voice will be heard.
─ Calvin Bruneau
Chief─Papaschase First Nation
(Editor’s note: The Edmonton Public Library has a collection of documents related to the matter of the Papaschase reserve. It has posted a historical summary and links to images of the documents at http://www.epl.ca/aboriginal-history-documents
Papaschase Burial Grounds
After the first Papaschase Band election in 1999, one of the first challenges the newly formed band council faced was the issue of a burial ground in central Edmonton. This burial ground was the Aboriginal and Fort Edmonton burial area. The Papaschase Chief and council were approached by aboriginal activists to get involved in protecting the burial ground. A power generating company, Epcor, had been operating on the site, which is located along the North Saskatchewan river in downtown Edmonton.
Incidentally, the Papaschase Chief and council were approached by descendants in the Elinor Lake area who were concerned that a gas company was trying to run a seismic line through a local burial ground were Chief Papaschase is buried. Members of Chief and council along with descendants and supporters cleared brush in and around the burial ground and marked it with a cross replacing one that had fallen down. According to Alberta's Cemeteries Act, a burial ground or cemetery that is marked with a marker is protected by law and is punishable with a fine and/or jail time.
An Energy Utility Board pre-hearing (2000) and hearings (2000/01) resulted when a number of stakeholders came forward to protest Epcor's proposed RD11expansion. Initially, the EUB approved Epcor's expansion plans but after recommendations were made to the Alberta Community Development, Minister Gene Zwodesky halted the expansion for good. Although the expansion was stopped to protect the historic buildings that were built for power generation it did result in a victory to protect the burial grounds. It also helped too that human bones were found on Epcor's property in May 2000 and in October 2000.
This resulted in Epcor being held accountable and unable to dig in the area without an Archaeological permit.
After the hearings the Aboriginal, Metis and French activists approached then Mayor Bill Smith at a meeting at City Hall to deal with the burial ground. At first, Epcor's one-sided argument swayed Mayor Smith and council but they changed there minds after seeing pictures of Archaeologists digging human remains on Epcor's property. As a result, meetings were commissioned to have representatives of the City of Edmonton and various stakeholders to discuss how best to deal with the burial ground.
Since then a portion of Rossdale Road that ran over the burial ground in front of Epcor's Rossdale generating site has been closed and removed. A memorial was developed with input from various stakeholders and descendants. Also the human remains that were removed from the site that were being held at the Medical Examiner's office and the University of Alberta's Anthropology Department were prepared for reburial. The reburial ceremony took place on August 28, 2006 near the site, and the human remains were buried in the protected area by descendants/stakeholders with hundreds of descendants, City officials, Minister Pearl Calahasen, Clergy and Spiritual leaders in attendance. Bylaws have been changed and rezoned, the site is legally a historic cemetery/burial ground and protected by law.
At the reburial ceremony, Chief Rose Lameman and Councillor Calvin Bruneau confirmed that indeed the Papaschase band had at least 31 members who were buried at the burial ground/cemetery. Councillor Joyce Bruneau's research is continuing to determine whether more of our ancestors were buried there.
Currently, the City of Edmonton has hired contractors to build a memorial honouring the First Nation's, Metis, French, English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors who were buried in the Traditional burial ground and Fort Edmonton Cemetery. The price tag is approximately 1.3 million to build. Construction is under way this spring and is slated to be completed some time this summer. All this work has been done to honor our ancestors who lived, died and were buried in this most historic and sacred site. The unveiling of the ceremony will be announced after the completion of the project.