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Historic human bones found in landfill to be repatriated to First Nation

Conrad Ritchie, right, is Chief of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and Lorne Mandawoub, left is an elder in the band council. (Submitted by Conrad Ritchie)

Conrad Ritchie, right, is Chief of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation and Lorne Mandawoub, left is an elder in the band council.

Photo: (Submitted by Conrad Ritchie)


Remains were estimated to be between 100 to 300 years old, says forensic anthropologist

Leaders of the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation in southwestern Ontario say they want ancestral remains that were discovered last week returned to the site where they were buried near Sauble Beach, so they can be recognized and protected as a burial. 

The bones of three or four people were handed over to the First Nation's band office after a forensic anthropologist deemed they were Indigenous and more than a 100 years old.  

It's just a reaffirmation that our people have always been here and reaffirmed everything we've always said to municipalities and everything around our territory, said Chief Conrad Ritchie.

We want to repatriate them back to where they were found and have that site registered as a burial for where our people come from and just ensuring that people know that.

The bones were buried at a cottage by the beach but ended up at a landfill in nearby Southampton, Ont., where a resident alerted local and provincial police. An investigation on Thursday determined they were historic and not criminal in nature.  

A contractor doing renovations to the cottage sent the bones to a compost site but hadn't realized that they were human remains, according to forensic anthropologist Greg Olson, who led the investigation on behalf of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.

Two loads were trucked off to a site in the landfill, and it wasn't until the loads were dumped at the landfill that someone actually noticed there were human bones there, he said.

Olson said the bones won't be further investigated out of respect for the First Nation because it's an intrusive process that requires cutting into the bones which the band doesn't permit. 

The bones should be put back where they came from, said Lorne Mandawoub, an elder member of the band's council. We don't dig our dead up, that's awful.

Burials scattered due to nomadic history

The remains found included an adult skull, portions of smaller skulls, along with limbs and ribs. Without properly analyzing them in a lab it's hard to tell their age, but Olson estimates they could be anywhere between 100 to 300-years-old.

They were determined to be Indigenous based how the teeth were placed, he said.

Normally it's the dentition because our Indigenous brothers are a little bit different than us but they're very identifiable.

What concerned Ritchie about the discovery was that the soil was sent to the landfill and no authorities were notified. His council plans to address this with the municipality and province.

How many times has something like this happened before? I'm hurt if that did happen and things were swept under the rug and nobody was alerted. We're not going to let it go by no means, Mandawoub added.

It's common for burials to be found when new construction happens as they were scattered due to nomadic movements of Indigenous communities before colonization and modern day cemeteries, said Ritchie.

We never grew up on reserve systems. Our people were nomadic and they always travelled to different places as a way to conserve resources in one area, but we always had a particular pattern because we were all one family and one nation, he said. 

It was a different way of living, the people were free to roam and travel and it's a little bit different now that people are so isolated on a reserve system.

The council is seeking more data before starting a process to legally protect the site, but in the meantime, spiritual leaders in the community have offered tobacco and lit a sacred fire to help ensure the spirit rests in peace, Ritchie said.

Isha Bhargava (new window) · CBC News