Sask. First Nations prepared to call for blockade at proposed road site where artifacts discovered

A controversial road project west of Biggar, Sask., could face a First Nations blockade if construction is approved next month.

Ancient Indigenous artifacts were recently discovered on the proposed route of the new gravel road.

Construction was originally slated to begin this week, but was put on hold for one month while officials with the Rural Municipality of Winslow review the project.

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says he hopes the provincial government and the municipality will be reasonable and agree to work with his organization, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

“Listen to what First Nation leaders, elders and band members are recommending, directing,” Cameron said Tuesday from the proposed road site, approximately 150 kilometres west of Saskatoon.

If they don’t, Cameron said he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent the destruction of what is considered a sacred site, including political and legal pressure. If that fails, Cameron said he’ll rally First Nations people to set up a teepee camp to blockade the site.

“If these guys don’t want to listen to our First Nations culture and traditions, we’re going to call our people to come and set up camp. We’re going to stay there and we’re going to stop construction,” Cameron said.

FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron says First Nations people will set up a teepee camp if the local and provincial governments decide to proceed with a gravel road at the site where the artifacts were discovered. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Last week, small branches were set up, teepee-style, over one of the artifact sites. On Tuesday, they were replaced with full-sized teepee poles and cloth.

“It is so critical to preserve this,” Cameron said. “Sacred items were found on a sacred site. We have to do something.”

The artifacts discovered at the site include fragments of a stone spearhead or knife up to 10,000 years old, according to a letter written by the provincial government’s chief archeologist and obtained by CBC News. There’s also a stone cairn with a small scraping tool made of volcanic obsidian stone traced to the Yellowstone National Park area of Wyoming.

Historians and archeologists say the findings, potentially the oldest in the province’s history, could help explain ancient settlement and trade patterns of this region.

The farm couple that owns the land near the village of Dodsland — Mitzi and Jim Gilroy — said they’re proud to help preserve this important piece of Indigenous culture.

Last week, they welcomed the region’s First Nations elders and leaders to the site. Following a pipe ceremony, the Gilroys hosted lunch at their farm house.

Farmer Mitzi Gilroy and her husband, Jim, support First Nations in their efforts to preserve Indigenous artifacts recently found on their farmland. (Jason Warick/CBC)

On Tuesday, Cameron was there to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Gilroys. He praised them for notifying First Nations of the discovery, and slammed the government for failing to do so.

A provincial official said last week that all rules were followed, and under provincial legislation, there is no requirement to notify First Nations of any artifact discoveries.

The artifacts were unearthed in three locations by a Saskatoon archeological firm contracted by the municipality ahead of the road work. As of last week, the artifacts were being prepared for shipment to Regina.

The provincial government mandates all artifacts be shipped to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

The new grid road being constructed is just north of Dodsland, Sask. (CBC)

Cameron said these rules are outrageous. First Nations deserve to be notified when Indigenous artifacts are found.

He said it’s arrogant for the museum and the government to take possession.

“That is our property. They have no right or business to take it,” Cameron said.

In a statement last week, officials with the rural municipality said they’re reviewing the project, and no construction will take place until at least July 1.

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