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Story of the stones

Elders believe they could mark ancient Sioux burial site

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Sioux elder Calvin Pompana points to a suspected ancient Sioux grave in a farm field near St. Laurent.

BILL REDEKOP/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Sioux elder Calvin Pompana points to a suspected ancient Sioux grave in a farm field near St. Laurent. Photo Store

ST. LAURENT -- Native elders want the province to perform conductivity tests to help determine whether suspicious stones in a farm field mark an ancient burial site of Sioux people.

Relying on oral history, the elders believe the stones indicate Sioux graves and may also point to a site where the Sioux battled Ojibwa and Cree warriors back in the early 1700s.

It's been established the Sioux and Ojibwa staged a war for the Interlake. It's also believed the Cree joined forces with the Ojibwa against the Sioux at one point. The Ojibwa eventually won out, pushing the Sioux, more often called Dakota today, into territory south of Portage la Prairie.

The story the stones mark Sioux graves has been handed down through generations, said Jules Chartrand, a Métis elder near St. Laurent. The story dates back in his family to at least 1900, he said. He was told by his grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Chartrand.

"Was (the suspected burial site) a result of people staying here years and years, or the result of a battle? That's what we'd like to find out," said Calvin Pompana, a Dakota elder from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, located on the west side of Manitoba. Pompana said the Sioux would overwinter on the shores of Lake Manitoba because there was good hunting and fishing.

Pompana and Chartrand have asked the province to research the site, including conductivity tests using penetrating radar equipment. If the discovery is positive, they would like the site protected and to possibly set up a small interpretive centre. The landowner is being co-operative.

Brian Smith, the province's manager of archaeological assessments, visited the farm field about two years ago. "The nice thing about the site is no one's ever taken a plow to it," as it remains native hay land, he said.

Smith said the rocks in the field have definitely been deliberately arranged, and many years ago. Some of the rocks are arranged in small rectangles or circles. "There's something there but what it is I don't know," he said. "I've always learned you don't discredit oral history."

But the province doesn't own conductivity testing equipment that could tell whether the earth beneath the stones has been disturbed. Neither is it the department's mandate to perform that kind of archaeological research. Interested native parties would have to hire a private archeological firm, Smith said. Chartrand has tried to interest some aboriginal organizations in funding research of the site, without success so far.

The battle for the Interlake raged for many years, said James Ritchie, a local historian in Boissevain who is writing a book on Sioux-Ojibwa wars in Manitoba from 1640 to 1860.

Early in the 1700s, Sioux warriors travelled north and swept through the Interlake, destroying Ojibwa settlements. In one particular battle near Fairford, the Sioux massacred a settlement, not even sparing women and children. (Ritchie's account relies heavily on two articles by Rupert Leslie Taylor in the Winnipeg Free Press in 1966 on the Interlake tribal wars.)

The Ojibwa, led by Chief Wooden Tent, fled to the shores of Lake Winnipeg and plotted revenge. It took three years to organize armies, including enlisting the Cree.

Then the Ojibwa attacked from the north, while the Cree moved up from the south. The Cree parked their horses near Portage la Prairie because the ground had become too marshy and sealed off the Sioux from the south.

If a battle ensued with the Sioux near St. Laurent, it would have probably been by the Cree, Ritchie said.

Warring among aboriginal tribes before contact with Europeans is a sensitive issue among aboriginal people but it was no different than elsewhere in the world, said Chartrand. "It was the same in Europe. They were all fighting each other. It was worse in Europe," he said.

Today, the Dakota and Ojibwa bands often work together, like in the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council, the Dakota Ojibway Police Service and Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 A8

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