An­cient burial grounds un­der threat

Mi’kmaq chiefs ex­plor­ing ways to stop ero­sion

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIN POTTIE

Mea­sures are be­ing taken to pro­tect an­cient Mi’kmaq burial sites that are threat­ened by coastal ero­sion.

About a decade ago, Nova Sco­tia Mi’kmaq chiefs be­came aware of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of gravesites be­long­ing to their an­ces­tors lo­cated along the Bras d’Or Lake and other bod­ies of wa­ter.

Heather Ma­cLeod-Les­lie, se­nior ar­chae­ol­o­gist with the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Ne­go­ti­a­tion Of­fice, said a base­line study will ex­am­ine the ex­is­tence of such sites through archival and sec­ondary his­tor­i­cal re­search.

It is cur­rently un­known how many of these sites are in ex­is­tence.

“We know of some places through ar­chae­ol­ogy, through oral tra­di­tions, but lo­ca­tion can be a fuzzy thing some­times, and some­times 10 feet makes all the dif­fer­ence,” Ma­cLeod-Les­lie said in a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view.

“Whether it’s sand or clay, or whether there’s cob­bles — these sorts of things make a dif­fer­ence.”

The Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Ne­go­ti­a­tion Of­fice, also known as the Mi’kmaq Rights Ini­tia­tive, is the ne­go­ti­at­ing body in Nova Sco­tia that works to im­ple­ment Indige­nous rights un­der treaties signed in the 1700s.

Ma­cLeod-Les­lie said dur­ing the last eight years or more, ef­forts were made by the prov­ince’s Mi’kmaq chiefs to pro­tect two burial sites that had be­gun erod­ing, mostly as a re­sult of storm ac­tion.

The chiefs part­nered with the fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments to im­ple­ment what’s de­scribed as a hard-shell so­lu­tion that in­volves the strate­gic place­ment of ar­mour stone.

This method was later shown to have pros and cons. One neg­a­tive was the de­flec­tion of en­ergy caused by storm surge that was sent else­where to cre­ate dam­age.

About two years ago, the chiefs re­sponded to a sec­ond erod­ing gravesite by us­ing a soft-shell so­lu­tion that in­volved the use of co­conut-fi­bre mats and logs.

Ma­cLeod-Les­lie said this method worked quite well in dis­si­pat­ing storm surge en­ergy, so long as veg­e­ta­tion was given an op­por­tu­nity to in­cor­po­rate with the co­conut fi­bre.

Rather than wait­ing to re­spond to dan­gers, the Assem­bly of Nova Sco­tia Mi’kmaq Chiefs is now work­ing to pro­tect its burial grounds from ero­sion.

“They’ve said enough is enough,” said Ma­cLeod-Les­lie. “We need to be pre­pared for this be­cause this cli­mate change phe­nom­e­non is not go­ing to stop.”

Ac­cord­ing to the assem­bly’s hu­man re­mains pro­to­col, an­ces­tors should be left to rest, and their re­mains should not be dis­turbed.

The Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Ne­go­ti­a­tion Of­fice is now the process of hir­ing a re­searcher/trans­la­tor whose du­ties will in­clude tran­scrib­ing doc­u­ments, map de­vel­op­ment sup­port and the trans­la­tion of French lan­guage archival doc­u­ments to English.

“No­body’s nec­es­sar­ily done a sys­tem­atic sur­vey of the archival in­for­ma­tion, specif­i­cally look­ing for ref­er­ences to bury­ing grounds or burial grounds in this par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion,” said Ma­cLeod-Les­lie.

“Some of the early doc­u­ments cre­ated by French set­tlers and French colonists, in that early French lan­guage, may have ref­er­ences (to buri­als) that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily have been the fo­cus of the doc­u­ment, but will as­sist us in this par­tic­u­lar work.”

Once the base­line study is com­plete, a field sur­vey team will as­sess the lo­ca­tions that have been iden­ti­fied through the his­tor­i­cal re­search.

This will be­gin a sys­tem or mon­i­tor­ing and mod­el­ling the sites de­pend­ing on their level of threat.

“We’re not go­ing to stop sealevel rise and we’re not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to stop coastal ero­sion,” said Ma­cLeod-Les­lie.

“That’s not phys­i­cally pru­dent, so if we’re go­ing to pro­tect ar­eas we need to make good de­ci­sions about what works in these ar­eas and un­der­stand how much of those pro­tec­tive re­sources we re­quire to ad­e­quately and ap­pro­pri­ately pro­tect these cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive ar­eas.”

Any­one with in­for­ma­tion on Mi’kmaq burial sites that are ac­tively erod­ing is asked to con­tact the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Ne­go­ti­a­tion Of­fice through its web­site, http://mik­maqrights. com.


Heather Ma­cLeod-Les­lie is shown tak­ing part in tem­po­rary ero­sion-con­trol ef­forts on the shores of the Bras d’Or Lake in 2009.

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