In a move reflecting historical and cultural preservation, First Nations leaders are urging the federal and provincial governments for the expropriation of Turtle Crossing, a popular campground in Brandon (Manitoba, Canada).
A Winnipeg Sun report revealed that Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee, along with Chiefs Larson Anderson of Norway House Cree Nation and David Monias of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, recently met with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree.
The gathering centered on safeguarding potential burial sites of MKO citizens, suspected to be located near former residential school premises.
Historical data indicates residents from approximately eight northern Manitoba First Nations communities would have enrolled in the Brandon Indian Residential School. This institution, operational from 1895 to 1972, was subsequently demolished.
A 2021 inquiry led by the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and aided by researchers from multiple universities identified over 100 potential graves across three cemeteries tied to the residential school in Brandon. Notably, the Assiniboine River Burial Ground, one of these cemeteries, presently occupies the site of the privately-owned Turtle Crossing Campground in Brandon. This gravesite is speculated to have been functional from 1895 to 1912.
MKO has expressed the desire for both provincial and federal authorities to protect the site. They advocate for First Nations’ “custody and control” over both the children interred and the site itself. Additionally, MKO has appealed to Canada for financial support to expedite the expropriation of this land under the Manitoba Heritage Resources Act.
With the upcoming inauguration of the province’s new NDP government, Settee remains hopeful of collaborative efforts between Canada, the new Manitoba administration, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, and MKO to ensure the site’s conservation.
MKO’s stance remains firm: Immediate action is crucial whenever children’s remains are confirmed or presumed to be at a site, as emphasized by Settee.
However, the owner of Turtle Crossing Campground, Mark Kovatch, voiced concerns about potential expropriation. Kovatch acknowledges the likelihood of residential school students being buried on his property until 1912. Yet, he opposes shutting down the campground, emphasizing its significance as an affordable recreation spot in Brandon. Acknowledging the site’s historical significance, Kovatch revealed that suspected burial zones have been cordoned off in recent times, and he has been pursuing aid to establish a memorial there.
Spanning a vast 65 acres, Turtle Crossing nestles between the Assiniboine River to its south and Lake Percy to the north. Its location provides both seclusion and convenience, being a mere ten-minute drive from Brandon’s bustling city center.
But the campsite itself is a hub of activities and amenities. From free Wi-Fi and showers to an expansive indoor games room, it’s a haven for both relaxation and recreation. Outdoor enthusiasts have a plethora to choose from: paddle boarding, fishing, and even a mini petting zoo.
Moreover, its strategic location near the city center means urban amenities are within easy reach. Whether it’s a quick trip to the movies or a visit to a museum, campers have a world of options at their fingertips.
The ongoing discussions between First Nations leaders and local authorities are centered on finding a balance. A balance that honors the land’s rich heritage and significance while respecting its current role as a recreational hotspot.
Featured image from Turtle Crossing.