After the first Papaschase Band election in 1999, one of the first challenges the newly formed band council faced was the issue of a burial ground in central Edmonton. This burial ground was the Aboriginal and Fort Edmonton burial area. The Papaschase Chief and council were approached by aboriginal activists to get involved in protecting the burial ground. A power generating company, Epcor, had been operating on the site, which is located along the North Saskatchewan river in downtown Edmonton.
Incidentally, the Papaschase Chief and council were approached by descendants in the Elinor Lake area who were concerned that a gas company was trying to run a seismic line through a local burial ground were Chief Papaschase is buried. Members of Chief and council along with descendants and supporters cleared brush in and around the burial ground and marked it with a cross replacing one that had fallen down. According to Alberta’s Cemeteries Act, a burial ground or cemetery that is marked with a marker is protected by law and is punishable with a fine and/or jail time.
An Energy Utility Board pre-hearing (2000) and hearings (2000/01) resulted when a number of stakeholders came forward to protest Epcor’s proposed RD11expansion. Initially, the EUB approved Epcor’s expansion plans but after recommendations were made to the Alberta Community Development, Minister Gene Zwodesky halted the expansion for good. Although the expansion was stopped to protect the historic buildings that were built for power generation it did result in a victory to protect the burial grounds. It also helped too that human bones were found on Epcor’s property in May 2000 and in October 2000.
This resulted in Epcor being held accountable and unable to dig in the area without an Archaeological permit.
After the hearings the Aboriginal, Metis and French activists approached then Mayor Bill Smith at a meeting at City Hall to deal with the burial ground. At first, Epcor’s one-sided argument swayed Mayor Smith and council but they changed there minds after seeing pictures of Archaeologists digging human remains on Epcor’s property. As a result, meetings were commissioned to have representatives of the City of Edmonton and various stakeholders to discuss how best to deal with the burial ground.
Since then a portion of Rossdale Road that ran over the burial ground in front of Epcor’s Rossdale generating site has been closed and removed. A memorial was developed with input from various stakeholders and descendants. Also the human remains that were removed from the site that were being held at the Medical Examiner’s office and the University of Alberta’s Anthropology Department were prepared for reburial. The reburial ceremony took place on August 28, 2006 near the site, and the human remains were buried in the protected area by descendants/stakeholders with hundreds of descendants, City officials, Minister Pearl Calahasen, Clergy and Spiritual leaders in attendance. Bylaws have been changed and rezoned, the site is legally a historic cemetery/burial ground and protected by law.
At the reburial ceremony, Chief Rose Lameman and Councillor Calvin Bruneau confirmed that indeed the Papaschase band had at least 31 members who were buried at the burial ground/cemetery. Councillor Joyce Bruneau’s research is continuing to determine whether more of our ancestors were buried there.
Currently, the City of Edmonton has hired contractors to build a memorial honouring the First Nation’s, Metis, French, English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors who were buried in the Traditional burial ground and Fort Edmonton Cemetery. The price tag is approximately 1.3 million to build. Construction is under way this spring and is slated to be completed some time this summer. All this work has been done to honor our ancestors who lived, died and were buried in this most historic and sacred site. The unveiling of the ceremony will be announced after the completion of the project.