By M. Cook
On Friday, May 13, a group of Native rights activists began occupying a sacred burial site at the south-east end of High Park.
“For us it’s more than a sacred site, it is also a ceremonial grounds,” Harrison Friesen, a peace keeper from Red Power United, told BASICS.
For several year, bmx riders had begun excavating the mounds to build dirt bike jumps. In response, the Iroquois community have been asking the city of Toronto to protect the burial site for over eleven years.
“This has been an issue that has been going on for eleven years. Trying to get these jumps taken down. Trying to get the city to enforce the by-law and keep the bikers out,” Friesen says.
“It came to a head last week when we had a meeting with city hall and the Toronto police. A decision was made amongst our peace keepers that enough is enough.”
And so on Friday, a group composed of people from Cree, Ojibwe and Seneca communities, as well as non-native people in the surrounding community began to occupy the site.
“we are here as peace keepers from Red Power United, Native Rights movement…to be peace keepers of the site, which we know is a 3,000 year old Iroquois burial site.”
Friesen says that “at first it was very stand-off-ish with the city and the police, they didn’t want us in here.”
“We basically had to let them know that we don’t work for the city, we don’t work for the police. This ain’t nine to five for us, this is part of our culture, part of who we are as native people.”
“We said we’re going in to remove those jumps and we’ll be there 24 hours a day to keep those bikers out if need be.”
“We want to restore it [burial site] to the way it was, to natural mounds in here. We’re asking that the fence be put up to keep people out. The growth and restoration of the area can take place once again.”
Surprisingly, there appeared to be no animosity directed towards the bmx bikers.
“We’ve had bmx riders come up to the fence. We have been very diplomatic, we’ve been educators – educating people on the history and what’s taking place here,” said Friesen.
The group were not against the bmx riders themselves. Instead the group argued that the government should be providing youth with special parks for bmx riders. Just don’t put the park on top of a burial ground.
Seems like a more than reasonable request.
Much of the media has questioned the validity of the groups claim to the site being a burial ground. And the city of Toronto is conducting tests.
Friesen says that he’s not concerned with the cities tests, as “we follow our traditions and oral history – the things that are passed down from generation to generation – tell us that this is our sacred burial site.”
He also puts into question the validity of the city of Toronto’s tests, “we don’t agree that they’ve tested in this area. They say they’ve done 40 tests in here, but it wasn’t in here. It was around various parts [he points outside of the area]. And the guy that did the testing wasn’t licensed. He didn’t have a license to do the testing.”
After eleven years, this Tuesday, the city of Toronto employees were at the site, putting up the requested fence.
One of the native rights activists remarked, that he had never seen a fence go up so quickly. Apparently, the city won’t listen to you, unless you act.
The group has received a lot of support from the community. On Saturday, there was a stream of people who showed up to help out and offer food and water.
The group is inviting families come out to the site this Saturday and help restore the sacred grounds and participate in a feast with elders of the community.