Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reconciliation slow on huge forest fire likely set during student trip

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FIVE years after a Brandon School Division field trip likely set off a massive forest fire near Grand Rapids, pleas for reconciliation are slowly moving along -- about as quickly as the trees are regenerating.

"The students have graduated, the teacher has retired," BSD school board chairman Mark Sefton said this week.

BSD is waiting to hear what sort of an agenda the Grand Rapids Trappers Association has for any further meetings.

"We're talking more about a reconciliation process" than about any kind of compensation, Sefton said.

Board minutes from last month show trustees have had legal advice to avoid any talk of compensation or retribution and have been advised to hold any talks with the trappers in Brandon.

Sefton said the fire in 2008 had a huge impact on the habitat of the animals on which the trappers rely for their livelihood.

A provincial investigation concluded a Brandon School Division field trip most likely started a forest fire that consumed 53,008 hectares of forest, destroyed natural habitat and trappers' cabins, and cost $4.5 million to extinguish.

The since-cancelled Eco-Odyssey program is believed to have set off the fire when students burned toilet paper while in the bush. No one was injured.

Sefton said no one involved in that trip has come forward saying he or she would be willing to take part in reconciliation.

Elders from Misipawistik Cree Nation want the Brandon students and teacher responsible to come to Grand Rapids for a traditional healing circle.

"We were there a year ago and met with them," said Sefton, but it's the people involved in the fire that northern residents want to come to the healing circle.

It's called kwayaskonikiwin, one of the oldest traditional laws of reconciliation, Michael Anderson, director of the natural resources secretariat for the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) said last year in an interview. "It means to set things right, to restore a balance," Anderson said. "The elders have requested that the students who were personally involved come back."

Sefton said that BSD is hoping to find some way to promote greater awareness among current students.

"Is there a student exchange we can do, so our students would be more familiar with the aboriginal community and life on a trapline?" he said.

The trappers association could not be reached.

 

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2013 A7

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