The province must ban the bulldozing of important native sites by developers without the consultation or even notification of First Nations people, says a spokesperson with the Huron-Wendat nation.
“We are not against development, but there should be a duty to consult so we can work together,” said Luc Laine, Ontario spokesperson for the Quebec-based Wendake First Nation. “We are pretty upset with what is going on out there, particularly with what is happening at Teston Rd.”
Laine’s comments came after the archaeological excavation this month of a small soybean field at the northeast corner of Teston Rd. and Jane St. in Vaughan.
Laine says native stakeholders only found out about the dig by accident, although it is thought to be on or near the site of a historically and culturally important Huron village from the 13th and 14th centuries. He contends this dig should have led to some form of notification.
The three-week excavation, which included tearing up the field with earthmoving equipment, was wrapped up by archaeologist Keith Powers last Monday.
The dig site is also just metres away from a mass grave containing the remains of some 400 Hurons, discovered in 2005 during the widening of Teston Rd.
When Huron-Wendat officials heard of the dig a few weeks ago, their Toronto lawyer David Donnelly frantically emailed Tourism and Culture Minister Michael Chan and Vaughan planning officials, demanding without success that the work be halted until the Huron-Wendat could be drawn into the process.
“In the old days, at least the First Nations got muskets and beads when we took their sites,” Donnelly said. “Now they can’t even get a phone call returned.”
There is currently no legal requirement that First Nations be consulted in such cases, though there is a patchwork of legal decisions and a consultation recommendation from the Ipperwash Commission of Inquiry, which found that 8,000 native village and burial sites have been destroyed province-wide.
A 2004 court decision in Ontario also ruled that the province has a duty to consult with native stakeholders when selling property.
But there are no provincial regulations currently in place requiring consultation when native sites are found on private property, although a set of guidelines is “imminent,” says ministry spokesperson Danelle Balfour.
“The ministry is updating the standards and guidelines for archaeology to bring more consistency and predictability,” Balfour said. “Aboriginal engagement will be a key part of the new standards and guidelines.”
Balfour said the ministry has been in contact with the Huron-Wendat since the Teston Rd. dig came to light and will have further talks next week, all aimed at getting a process in place requiring notification of First Nations groups when village or ossuary sites are discovered on private land.
When York Region road crews uncovered the Teston Rd. gravesite remains in 2005, the region called an immediate halt to construction — as required under provincial law when human remains are found — and notified native groups. A study determined that the burial site was a Huron-Wendat ossuary.
In the end, the road was moved slightly to accommodate a new gravesite, and the bones were later reburied with ceremony under the eye of elders representing First Nations from across Ontario and Quebec.
Landowner Gold Park Homes refused to comment on the matter when contacted. No development application has been received for the site. However, Powers, the archaeologist, said the developer informed him they were proceeding with a dig because “they wanted to make sure there was nothing on the site to impact development.”
Powers said Gold Park officials were told best archaeological practices dictated that First Nations representatives should be notified of the dig, but they refused. Powers was asked by Donnelly, ministry and Vaughan officials at the site to stop excavation until proper notification could take place but he told them Gold Park wanted the dig to continue.
“They didn’t want anything to hold this up. They wanted to go fast,” Powers said. “They didn’t want to contact aboriginal groups. That is clear. But I don’t want to be the bad guy here. I did what my employer said to do.”
Based on what he uncovered at the site during his dig, the village site is likely located mostly in a forested area adjacent and to the north of the field, Power said.
The tips of longhouse shadows found at the northern edge of the field and the small scattering of artifacts at the site all led him to deduce the village is in the forested area, which is environmentally protected and can never be built on, Powers said.
The village, which is considered important both archaeologically and historically, would likely contain storage pits, hearths, post moulds and other longhouse remains. There are even possibly more burials.