Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs shocked that downtown Winnipeg is a First Nations burial site
Treaty One Territory, MB. _ Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is shocked to learn there were 1,200 First Nations people who died from a small pox epidemic in the late 1700s and were buried in “the heart of the city of Winnipeg” on “the north bank of the river.”
“It is horrifying to learn of the impact of this small pox epidemic and the number of our people who died due to their contact with the settler society,” said Grand Chief Dumas. “This devastation of our First Nations population cleared the way for the appropriation of their lands and resources. The mere fact that there are a dozen burial sites within short distances of each other and that Winnipeggers do not know whose bones they are walking over, building over is astounding and disheartening.”
Winnipeg Free Press columnist Niigaan Sinclair wrote, a smallpox epidemic destroyed communities across southern Manitoba in 1781. These outbreaks came with a 90 per cent death rate. Scholars have noted that 800 lodges of Indigenous peoples resided at what is now known as The Forks in Winnipeg. First Nations people lived, travelled and traded for 6,000 years at The Forks.
“These epidemics had more than just the immediate effects of First Nations people perishing from the disease; they also altered the lives of not only survivors, but future generations. They affected First Nations’ cultural, social, and political institutions. Their everyday life changed forever. We need to work with the Province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg to honour those that perished from these outbreaks,” said Grand Chief Dumas.
This could include but not limited to a memorial statue, stories included in history books of Winnipeg and Manitoba, or a plaque at the site of The Forks detailing the small pox epidemic and the effects on First Nations citizens in Manitoba, suggested Grand Chief Dumas.