Hat’s his­tory of hon­our­ing In­dige­nous ‘abysmal’

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Opinion -


Parks should be com­mended for try­ing to pro­tect the Saamis site. Ad­mit­tedly it should have been done years ago, but once they saw the dam­age they rec­og­nized their le­gal obli­ga­tion to pro­tect this Des­ig­nated His­toric Re­source, of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance within the North Amer­i­can Plains.

The City of Medicine Hat bills it­self as a “com­mu­nity of choice” and that is very true. It is an ex­cel­lent place to live; its very name ad­mits place fa­mil­iar­ity long be­fore the com­ing of the rail­way

It makes sense. Here, three creeks that drain vast ar­eas meet, pro­vid­ing gen­tle ac­cess to a river that is gen­er­ally framed on one side or the other with steep cliffs. The 1883 rail­road sur­vey­ors very likely fol­lowed an an­cient trail as they laid out the path of the rail­way. They weren’t sur­prised to see te­pees. Would they, how­ever, have been sur­prised to re­al­ize that the land un­der their feet held ev­i­dence of 9,500 years of use by early peo­ples?

In the en­su­ing years many lo­cals col­lected ar­ti­facts. They later spoke in won­der of the sites that “used to be” here. Their col­lec­tions are proof of his­tory but with­out a re­la­tion­ship, a con­text, the cul­tural story is lost. In 1973 the Al­berta His­tor­i­cal Re­sources Act was passed so that in­for­ma­tion could be col­lected be­fore sites were de­stroyed. In 1984 the Saamis Site was rec­og­nized for its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance and for the qual­ity and quan­tity of ar­ti­facts. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed mul­ti­ple oc­cu­pa­tions over hun­dreds of years, a time be­fore the horse and be­fore Euro­pean con­tact. It was a lo­ca­tion of peace and in­dus­try; food was pre­pared, hides worked for cloth­ing or shel­ter, pot­tery used, shells beads made.

Our city’s name uses its name Medicine Hat and the Saamis Tepee as iconic re­minders that it is set apart in the re­mem­brance of early peo­ples. Justly so, this is for us, as it was for them, a good place to live. But our com­mit­ment to hon­our­ing In­dige­nous his­tory is abysmal. A burial ground by Sholten Hill Road was bla­tantly looted and bull­dozed. The South Ridge sub­di­vi­sion took an im­pres­sive 4,500 year old Oxbow site. The Ross Glen sub­di­vi­sion by the creek oblit­er­ated sev­eral sites rang­ing from 1,500 to 5,000 years be­fore present.

But we have one site, of sci­en­tific sig­nif­i­cance that was guar­an­teed pro­tec­tion, (penal­ties of up to a 50,000 fine or jail), by both the His­tor­i­cal Re­sources Act and the City. That is the Saamis Site. Ad­ja­cent hunt­ing and camp sites con­nected to Saamis have been dam­aged by care­less wa­ter­shed plan­ning. Some parts of the Saamis site are ex­posed to daily ero­sion be­cause the pro­tec­tive grass layer has been de­stroyed. At present it still holds so much po­ten­tial as a valu­able record of the daily ac­tiv­i­ties of peo­ples here long be­fore us. Let us act quickly to pro­tect it.

Jan­ice An­dreas Medicine Hat

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