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Wendat woman vows to watch over remains. (Buffalo Spirit).

She cried for her ancestors, who have been disturbed after 350 years, but Michele Bedard hardened her resolve to stay by a recently discovered burial pit.

"We are the eyes and ears of those who cannot be here," Bedard, a member of the Indigenous Site Preservation Committee, said June 2, four days after the First Nations burial pit was discovered by a backhoe operator during the construction of a new $6-million arena in Midland.

It's believed to be a Huron-Wendat ossuary and dates back to around 1650, said Dean Knight, an archeologist from Wilfrid Laurier University, who is overseeing the work at the site.

Bedard, a member of the Huron-Wendat nation, is confined to a wheelchair because of a bone wasting disease and heart problems. She heard about the discovery of the ossuary, containing the remains of an entire village of 300 to 400 people, through the Internet at her home south of Barrie.

"Something told me to check my e-mail on Saturday morning, before I even had my first cup of tea. I was devastated when I read the e-mail that was being passed among our people about the discovery."

The Wendats, one of the largest Aboriginal groups in Ontario before European settlement, have scattered across North America and now live in Quebec, Kansas, Illinois and Ontario. They believe that their people have two souls--one that moves on to the afterlife and one that stays with the body after death, said Bedard.

"So we can feel their pain at being disturbed."

It's especially upsetting that some of the remains were taken into the Huron Museum in paper bags, while others were part of two truck loads of fill dumped in a nearby park, said Bedard's son James Hyland.

"That's why we will be here every day until they are returned," he said.

The Cemeteries Act calls for the geographically nearest First Nation to be notified about the discovery of a burial ground, so initially members of the Chippewas of Beausoleil First Nation were called to the scene.

A Beausoliel Elder attended and conducted a tobacco ceremony as a gesture to let the spirits know that the disturbance was not intended.

Groups of natives who stood by watching quietly were at times overcome by grief. About 15 or 20 people arrived each day. Some had come from Quebec, others from Six Nations near Brantford. There were also local Metis and Ojibway.

David Grey Eagle Sanford, a Mohawk from Toronto, who acts as a liaison between the Huron nation in Ontario and the Huron-Wendat Grand Chief Wellie Picard, said it will be up to the Elders, chiefs and members of band council to decide what happens to the site.

Options include reburying the remains and declaring the site a cemetery or removing them to another site.

"There is some concern that this is such a public place," said Sanford, who rejects the suggestion that the site should be marked with a plaque.

"That could lead to people digging for souvenirs," he said.

The gravesite is at the edge of land belonging to the town and preserving the site will not impede the building of the arena, said Midland Mayor George MacDonald, who plans to consult the province about the procedure to have the site declared a cemetery.

"We will abide by the wishes of the Aboriginal people," said MacDonald.

Museum curator Jamie Hunter is struck by the irony of a "significant" archaeological site being found 25 metres from his office.

"I've been working here for 35 years and the sort of find archaeologists dream about had been under my nose all that time," said Hunter.

Hunter had high praise for the backhoe operator who initially thought he was digging through tree roots, but once he realized they were human bones immediately stopped digging and alerted Hunter.

"He was obviously paying attention. Any other backhoe operator might never have noticed at all."

Hunter said the bones will be carefully screened out of the fill dumped in the park and with the bones picked up around the site, which are being stored in the museum, will be respectfully returned to the site.

Meanwhile, Bedard will be watching to make sure that the remains of her ancestors are respected.

"I can hear them crying in anguish, so I will be here to get in the way if necessary," she said.
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Title Annotation:Michele Bedard, a member of the Indigenous Site Preservation Committee, will watch over 350-year old burial pit discovered recently
Author:Avery, Roberta
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:Since last we spoke. (Buffalo Spirit).
Next Article:Hall of famer, family man. (Footprints).

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