Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kicked off Forks land, man cites racism

Treasure-hunter told site is 'private property'

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Donald Sinclair is a 47-year-old aboriginal man who loves to go to The Forks, although not for the same reason most people go there.

He goes there to hunt for buried treasure: Lost change, mostly.

He's been doing that with his metal detector -- and probing just below the surface with his screwdriver and spade -- for years.

Without incident, he says.

On Thursday, a man who does grounds maintenance for The Forks site told Donald he was digging holes that could cause people to break an ankle. He would have to leave.

"I started getting angry with them," Donald allows.

Angry and profane.

Which, under the circumstances, is understandable. He had been going to The Forks for 10 years looking for coins, he informed the groundskeeper, and he had never dug a dangerous hole. He invited the groundskeeper to show him one.

At that point, Donald took a timeout and headed for a public washroom.

When he returned to a grassy hill behind the Inn at the Forks to resume his coin hunting, security was summoned and the situation escalated.

"They said I was trespassing and I was on private property."

As outrageous as that sounds, in fact, The Forks management considers the area that's owned by the three levels of government private property.

But telling an aboriginal man that he's "trespassing" on land his ancestors inhabited for thousands of years before colonial contact is beyond insulting.

It's ludicrous.

Particularly when thousands of other people wander the so-called private property each summer without being told they're trespassing.

Security grabbed his $700 metal detector in what Donald felt was a careless manner and Donald was placed in handcuffs.

The Forks management claims somewhere in the midst of this, Donald took a swing at someone, which he says is "a lie."

And police were called.

Donald says four officers responded.

"They did not arrest me but they did keep me in handcuffs."

As passersby watched, his pockets were searched. It was at this point when Donald says an "older officer" became accusatory.

"He said I might be there to be luring children or breaking into cars."

Donald says he doesn't do any of that and he doesn't have a criminal record.

But police confiscated his screwdriver and spade, at which point he says they made another accusation. That he had filed them down into knife-like objects.

Over time, probing the ground, his screwdriver and spade can get sharp tips.

But Donald denies filing them that way.

"I don't even have a file."

Donald was told he was banned from The Forks for three months, and, after being in handcuffs for what he estimates was 45 minutes, he was released.

That night, Donald had trouble sleeping. He usually takes what he calls "calming medication" each day, but he hadn't taken it Thursday, which may have added to the anxiety of what happened at The Forks that afternoon.

What did calm him was what happened Friday morning.

Clare MacKay, the vice-president of marketing and communications manager for The Forks, returned Donald's call of complaint.

She apologized for what happened and told Donald he was welcome to resume his treasure-hunting at The Forks.

That made Donald happy.

What didn't was what happened when he asked police to return his screwdriver and spade.

He says they refused.

I sent police an email late Friday afternoon asking for reaction, but received no response.

By that time, I had already driven to The Forks to meet with Donald and his longtime coin-hunting pal, Dave Neyedli.

Dave said nothing like what Donald went through has ever happened to him at The Forks. "I'm white," he said.

That's how Donald feels about it: He was targeted and treated the way he was because he's aboriginal.

We may never know why Donald was handled the way he was, but it's probably fair to believe it wasn't simply because he got angry and profane when was told he was trespassing at The Forks, his property was seized, and he was handcuffed. And suffered the indignity of being treated as if he were a criminal.

All of this at The Forks, on the day before the United Nations International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. And in the looming shadow of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 B1

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