Burial mound restored after biking damage

Work under way in High Park to remove BMX bike ramps

When the ceremonial fire was lit, the final step in a years-long battle began.

Along the southern part of High Park there’s a spot known to Native people as Snake Mound. But to other people — and to the chagrin of a group of activists — it’s been known as a BMX biking area.

As first reported in October by the Town Crier, activists have been trying to work with the City of Toronto and the police to prevent BMXers from forming ramps on what they believe are ancient burial grounds.

Now, the bikes are gone, and in their place are flags — one representing the Six Nations, the other representing Native unity.

Finally, on May 13, the work to restore the area back to its natural formation began.

“The last few weeks after April 18, the bikers came down here and really destroyed the site even more so and at a fast rate so that’s when we said ‘that’s enough,’ ” said David Redwolf, the leader of the group camping at Snake Mound, while overlooking the former ramps that were being leveled out.

He said the group was decamping the morning of May 18 after the city had finished holding up its end of the bargain. Redwolf himself is a member of a Seneca clan, while other members in the group are of Ojibwa, Cree, Metis and non-Native background.

Also on site was manager for urban forestry Beth McEwen, who said that while there was already a plan to restore the area back to its original state, damage from BMXers in the early spring meant they couldn’t wait.

“It was part of a plan to restore this site this summer and that was after a lot of discussion about the BMXers,” she said. “It’s the excavation that’s caused most of the damage.”

Some of the damage, McEwen said, was irreparable. There were many trees and overhanging branches that were dead and had to be removed. She said city workers have already put in several weeks of work on the area to improve its overall quality, and if all goes well they can begin planting June 15.

In the meantime, she said the city is looking at other alternatives for the BMXers as well, because their intention was not to displace them entirely.

“We have also been working on finding another site (for biking),” McEwen said. “We are not yet ready to announce another site, but we are hoping to be able to do that.”

Redwolf, who also goes by Rastia’ta’non:ha, said he was elated to have the help from the city.

“It’s all working together in a positive way and I’m very pleased to see what’s going on here,” he said, adding that it’s not the destruction of the ramps that’s most important, but the restoration of the land.

“Too often these sorts of sites get destroyed, erased — it’s like erasing the footprint of our ancestors. And when the children look back 100 years from now, there’s nothing left for them to say that their ancestors were here.”

A major cause for controversy is the argument over whether or not Snake Mound is an ancient burial ground. Redwolf says it isn’t even really a question.

“It’s sacred ground, it is what it is,” he said. “You can feel it in the ground — at least I can — and there are others who feel it too.”

However, the city says it has no evidence to support the claim.

“I have listened to the concerns that David (Redwolf) has in that regard and tried to respect that in terms of how we’re doing the work,” McEwen said. “But … the city has not found evidence of it being an ancient burial site.”

But the evidence was already there, according to Redwolf, who cites the occurrence of red ochre — which is used predominantly in burial ceremonies — on the site.

“We have a lot of physical evidence ourselves,” he says with a hearty laugh. “We have all kinds of documentation, proof and artifacts that have come from the site. It seems that (the city) can’t find any of it, but we’ve been able to find quite a bit of it.”

Just three years ago, for example, Redwolf said an arrowhead dating back about 3,000 years was unearthed in the area. And once all the work is done on Snake Mound, he already has plans for the arrowhead and other artifacts like it.

“We have them in our possession and once the mound is in place, we will bring it back and bury it where we found it.”

About this article:

By: Shawn Star
Posted: May 31 2011 1:40 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto