Controversial Sask. road project shelved, municipality pledges to work with First Nations

A controversial Saskatchewan road project where ancient Indigenous artifacts were discovered has been halted for 2019, says the reeve of the local rural municipality.

In a statement to CBC News Wednesday afternoon, Rural Municipality of Winslow Reeve Sheldon McLean said they’re now consulting with First Nations and hope to find a solution.

“We understand the importance of First Nation heritage and conservation,” McLean said in the statement.

The project was set to proceed earlier this month over the objections of local First Nations. In the days leading up to the construction, a pipe ceremony was held on the site approximately 150 kilometres west of Saskatoon. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) threatened legal action and a blockade.

This piece of volcanic obsidian was unearthed from the site of a controversial road project near Dodsland, Sask. Some of the artifacts from the site could be as much as 10,000 years old, according to a government document. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Much of the criticism from First Nations, archaeologists, and international Indigenous legal experts was directed at the provincial legislation around heritage sites. Unlike other provinces, Saskatchewan does not require First Nations to be consulted when Indigenous artifacts are discovered.

McLean said the RM followed all the rules, but now realizes how significant the concerns were around the artifacts and the site.

Saskatoon consultant Brad Schiele has been brought in to help the Rural Municipality of Winslow consult local First Nations about a road project site where ancient artifacts were discovered.

“We look forward to having open and meaningful conversations with the involved First Nation groups and we hope to find a respectful and mutually acceptable solution to this proposed project,” McLean said in the statement.

The RM has enlisted the help of Saskatoon consultant Brad Schiele to bring the two groups together.

Schiele says he’s reached out to former Red Pheasant Cree Nation Chief Sheldon Wuttunee this week. He hopes Wuttunee and other First Nations leaders from the FSIN, Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs and others can meet with them soon.

Schiele said this is more than just consultation. He said the RM will not proceed at that location at all unless everyone can agree how to move forward.

“We need to see if we can create a mutual agreement on building the road. If it can’t be done, it’s a road. There’s other (locations) to build,” Schiele said. “We just need that initial meeting to see if this is something we can actually move forward on.”

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