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First Nation, camp owner make deal on grave search

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BRANDON — Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the owner of Turtle Crossing campground have come to a tentative agreement about work involving potential unmarked graves on the northwest Brandon land.

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BRANDON — Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and the owner of Turtle Crossing campground have come to a tentative agreement about work involving potential unmarked graves on the northwest Brandon land.

On Sept. 30, the First Nation led a protest at the entrance of Turtle Crossing, during a memorial walk to the nearby site of the former Brandon residential school. Cemeteries used by the school (which operated from 1895-1972) are located on the campground property and on land owned by the Brandon Research and Development Centre.

During the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event, Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone told protesters camp owner Mark Kovatch — despite assurances during a Sept. 23 meeting — had refused access to the site to search for additional potential graves.

Bone called it a “slap in the face” of the spirit of reconciliation.

However, the same day, Kovatch told the Sun the situation had been a “massive miscommunication.” He said he has been waiting on the First Nation for years to install a memorial and fencing on the property.

“We’ve been trying for over two years to… have this set up as a memorial so that people who visit the park can actually get a chance to learn about residential schools and the effects of colonialism,” he said.

It wasn’t until Kovatch told Sioux Valley he would start looking for another band to work with to get the fence and memorial installed the protest was announced, he said.

On Monday, two Sioux Valley councillors and an elder met with Kovatch — which garnered fruitful and clarifying discussions, the landowner said.

“I’m glad they came down and had the demonstration and were finally able to see the truth,” Kovatch said.

During the meeting, Kovatch said, he presented ground-penetrating radar maps from a 2019 survey that showed where six potential bodies are buried.

The initial survey was supported by the provincial and federal governments, Sioux Valley, City of Brandon, Brandon Research and Development Centre, and Kovatch.

“(The delegates) were able to see that, yes, we do know where the bodies are and exactly where we can erect the fence and a memorial,” Kovatch said.

Bone said she didn’t attend the Monday meeting, due to a family emergency. The chief later told the Sun any misunderstandings were on Kovatch’s part, saying the plan had always been to conduct a secondary survey to “delineate” cemetery boundaries.

“Maybe he doesn’t understand that,” Bone said, adding Sioux Valley had “no record” of attempted communication by Kovatch since “probably last year.”

“He hasn’t communicated with us. The very first meeting we had with him was on Friday, Sept. 23.”

Locating the final resting places of children who died at the residential school is an emotional topic, Bone said.

“It’s not about our personal views or our personalities,” she said. “It’s about having respect for the burials that are there and continuing on and ensuring that site is protected. That’s what’s important to me.”

— Brandon Sun

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