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Eulogy: Heather Bastien

21 February 2017 No Comment

** Eulogy **

Heather Bastien’s Legacy in the Traditional Territory
of the Huron-Wendat

A great friend and Elder to all of us, Mme Heather Bastien, passed away last week. Canada lost one of its greatest Aboriginal cultural heritage champions.

Together with Luc Laine, legal counsel and a few dedicated archaeologists, Heather’s efforts resulted in the protection of dozens of significant Huron-Wendat villages and burials, after decades of neglect and destruction by urban development in southern Ontario, the Traditional Territory of the Huron-Wendat.

In addition, four laws in the province of Ontario were reformed as a direct result of her campaigning for indigenous rights and recognition.

After retiring in her late 60’s, Heather traveled with her sisters to Midland, Ontario in 1999 to visit the ancestral homeland of her Nation, the Huron-Wendat. She had never been to Ontario. Her curiosity was piqued by a Parks Canada pamphlet at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons declaring the Hurons “extinct”.

What few people knew then was that when the Huron-Wendat people were driven from southern Ontario in 1650, they left behind a rich legacy of villages, burials, sacred sites, place-names and artifacts. As development exploded across their former territory, approximately 8,000 Aboriginal culture heritage sites were destroyed, 2,000 were significant. Most of these sites were Huron-Wendat.

In 2001, all that changed. Heather was invited to a ceremony by the Rouge River, once a thriving Huron-Wendat community, where we were first introduced.

The Ontario Realty Corporation (a government agency) had given a piece of land to the Catholic Cemeteries Board to allow them to build a 50,000-plot cemetery adjacent to a significant 14th century Wendat village, known as the “Milroy Site”. Heather wanted to know why the Huron-Wendat weren’t consulted, and how so much digging could possibly avoid the desecration of the nearby but undiscovered mass burial or “ossuary” of her ancestors?

Environmental Defence, Save the Rouge and the Huron-Wendat Nation came together to launch a remarkable private prosecution of the Ontario Government for failing to consult First Nations under the Environmental Assessment Act (“EA Act”)

At trial, the government argued an archaeological consultant driving a Mohawk woman by the site was sufficient consultation. The Judge laughed at that one, but didn’t laugh when our star witness, Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller, told the court the Ontario government had broken the law.? Together, we obtained a precedent-setting conviction, and the case was written up in the Globe and Mail as a “landmark victory” for the Huron-Wendat people and First Nations rights in Canada.

Finally, the Huron-Wendat and their legacy was legally recognized in Ontario.

What followed was a tidal wave of notices to the Huron-Wendat under the EA Act of new projects that threatened Huron-Wendat villages and burials all across southern Ontario.

A court challenge of the new status of the Huron-Wendat was launched by developers and other First Nations, fearful of a loss of land and authority over Aboriginal sites. The case forced Heather, by now well into her 70s, to testify on behalf of her Nation in another landmark case in Seaton, Ontario. Heather and Luc Laine had negotiated a breakthrough heritage conservation agreement with the government of Ontario that would see four significant Huron-Wendat sites protected from a single urban development, a momentous development agreement (not seen before or since). The court agreed with everything Luc and Heather had done, and further that the Huron-Wendat had the sole authority to make the agreement concerning their sites. Another victory was secured in which the court unanimously recognized the Huron-Wendat interest in their archaeological record in Ontario.

On December 7th, 2005, the Ontario Realty Corporation remitted to Heather Bastien a certificate certifying that a Wendat Site in Ontario would, from now on, be named for the Bastien Family, that is the Sébastien Site in the City of Pickering. This honour was given as a word of thanks for her great contribution to the conservation/protection of sites and ossuaries found across Ontario.
After the ceremony, the media quoted ORC spokesman Jim Butticci, who said, “We feel this was an important event in the ongoing relationship ORC is building with the First Nations community. The very fact we named it Sebastien is very significant”.
The naming of Aboriginal sites after archaeologists, landowners or almost anything was a long-standing tradition in Ontario, until Heather and Luc put a stop to it. Burials and village sites commonly had names such as “Seed-Barker”, “Milroy”, “Teston Road” or “Park” (named after a nearby trailer park). Heather made it her personal mission to respectfully re-name new and old Aboriginal sites.

On Thursday March 28, 2013, Mme Heather Bastien received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in Wendake, Quebec. The Medal was presented by the National Aboriginal Veterans Association for Heather’s work in commemorating ancient Huron-Wendat cultural heritage sites by re-naming them after Huron-Wendat veterans, such as Marcel Bastien and Fernand Laine, who had been treated so shabbily upon their return from war.

Perhaps Heather and Luc’s greatest victory was the preservation of Skandatut and the repatriation and re-burial of 2,000 Huron-Wendat skeletons at a nearby ossuary in Vaughan Ontario. Skandatut is a very large, 15th century village site in Ontario’s Greenbelt that would have served at one point as the Huron-Wendat capital. A developer sought a development permit to destroy the site to make way for new homes, and had begun to dig up the site.

What followed was another court case, and an incredible public education and awareness campaign led by Heather, Luc and Environmental Defence. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo ultimately wrote Premier Dalton McGuinty, calling Skandatut an “internationally significant site of high historical and archaeological significance”, and asked for its preservation in the name of all First Nations people.

The Premier listened, issuing an unprecedented “Stop Work Order” under the Ontario Heritage Act. Heather and Luc traveled to Toronto many, many times as part of a provincially-led negotiation that culminated in the successful creation of a 10-acre park, with Skandatut at its heart.

At this time in Ontario history, Aboriginal burial sites were routinely dug up without consent for academic purposes, or to make way for development. The Ontario Cemeteries Act did not require notice to the rightful descendants when a burial was discovered i.e. the most closely culturally affiliated Nation, but rather allowed notice to the “closest geographic” First Nation. For example, in August 2005 when a roadwork crew tore open a 400-person Huron-Wendat ossuary on Teston Road in Vaughan, the government called in an Anishnawbe person to conduct the re-burial. For decades, no one cared about Huron-Wendat burials. Heather and Luc set about changing the laws on Aboriginal burials and cultural affiliation.

They met their greatest challenge upon learning the University of Toronto had been storing (on Huron Street, if you can imagine) thousands of bones dug up by archaeologists from Huron-Wendat ossuaries across Ontario. Nearly two thousand Huron-Wendat ancestors were stored in banker’s boxes, all jumbled together by bone type, with titles like “skulls”, “femurs”, “teeth”, etc. scribbled on the sides of the boxes.

When Heather first entered the storage area, her heart sank. To make matters worse, at first the University of Toronto claimed ownership over the bones, and maintained a right to continue to perform scientific experiments without consent. Another court case was initiated, with Heather and Luc in the lead for the Huron-Wendat. Gradually, with overwhelming perseverance, patience and conviction, both the University of Toronto and the Ontario Heritage Trust were won over. A site was found for the re-burial across the Humber River from Skandatut, along the Carrying Place Trail, which is now known as the Thonnakona Ossuary.

In May 2012, in order to finalize the Thonnakona burial agreement, Heather and the Huron-Wendat Nation travelled to Miami, Oklahoma to reach an accord over ancestral sites with the Wyandotte First Nation, separated from the Wendat in 1650.

One day in September, 2013 under a sunny sky, the ancestors’ remains were laid to rest in a day-long ceremony. The Thonnakona Ossuary and the newly protected Skandatut would be forever linked and protected in Ontario’s first dedicated cultural heritage landscape.

When she was asked what preserving Skandatut and the ossuary meant to her, she said in giving thanks to the Province of Ontario:

“We created a permanently protected cultural heritage landscape in the Greenbelt. Preserving Skandatut, our ancient capital and burial ground, is a great legacy for all Nations.”

As part of this legacy, Heather and Luc made it a priority to stop decades of indifference and hostility over ancient sites between Ontario’s three Founding First Nations. Heather, Luc and her legal team travelled to several Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assemblies, where meetings between the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Anishnawbe eventually led to a Memorandum of Understanding being signed to create the “Founding First Nations’ Circle” clearly ceding rights and responsibilities to the “closest culturally effected First Nation”, whenever a village or burial is threatened.

There is one final project of note. In 2010, Heather and Luc began a collaboration with Yap Films, History Television and ASI to produce a film about a particularly unique artifact found at a 16th century village site in Stouffville, Ontario, sometime referred to as the “Manhattan” of Huron-Wendat village sites. The Mantle site excavation yielded a piece of a Basque iron tool that was curiously buried in a long-house that pre-dated direct contact with Europeans in the lower Great Lakes. The resulting film, “Curse of the Axe,” featured Luc and Heather as they animated the experience of coming face-to-face with the ancestors. The film has now been viewed by more than three million people around the world, further extending the reach of the Huron-Wendat into the national and international consciousness.

Heather did not just change people’s minds about aboriginal rights, she also changed the law in four different ways. First, consultation with directly affected First Nations is now mandatory under the Environmental Assessment Act. Second, the Cemeteries Act was re-written so that the “most closely culturally affiliated” First Nation is notified whenever a burial is disturbed. Third, under Ontario’s Planning Act, Policy 2.1.6 of the Provincial Policy Statement now says “Significant cultural heritage landscapes shall be conserved.” Finally, the “Standards and Guidelines for Consultant Archaeologists” under the Ontario Heritage Act now requires consultation with First Nations before a site can be excavated.

This extraordinary record of law reform was a collaboration led by Heather and Luc, and their many friends in Ontario, including Donnelly Law, Environmental Defence, Archaeological Services Inc., Jacques Huot, Dr. Andrew Stewart, Gilbert’s LLP, a number of women’s and Aboriginal rights organizations and many others. In all, Heather and Luc enlisted close to 100 professionals, lawyers, archaeologists, scientists, media, and politicians in their pursuit of justice for the Huron-Wendat people.

Heather was finally “retired” as the Huron-Wendat Cultural Heritage Liaison in 2013. In her dozen years of advocacy, she was involved in 53 files, serving almost entirely as a volunteer.

She would be very cross with me if I left you with the impression her work is done. Ninety-seven ancient Huron-Wendat ancestors’ bones are being experimented upon at Louisiana State University, and the university legal counsel is refusing to hand them back. The bones were stolen from an ossuary in Oshawa, Ontario.

The City of Toronto website still says our region was occupied by “Iroquoian people”, instead of the proud Huron-Wendat people. That phrase bothered Heather, and she used to tease me, “try calling an Irishman ‘potato eater’”.

Finally, Notice of projects that threaten First Nation’s sites are given, as required by law, to local residents, conservation authorities, school boards, Ontario Hydro, gas and electric utilities, Rogers Cable and other telecommunication infrastructure providers, and the list goes on.

You must only notify the Huron-Wendat Nation of a project that threatens your sites if, and I quote the Regulation, “The First Nation is located on a reserve any part of which is within one kilometre of the area covered by the proposed plan of subdivision.” For projects in Ontario, this means Notice is NEVER given to the Huron-Wendat. This is profoundly racist and an insult to First Nations that needs to be fixed.

Now I hear Heather’s voice, “That’s enough about me David, just tell them our work is far from done”.

And so I will answer, “That’s true Heather, but you and Luc put the Huron-Wendat back on the map in your Traditional Territory. Huron-Wendat rights and responsibilities have been restored in your name, your work is done”.

Merci, Heather.

RIP Heather Bastien, 1932-2017

Delivered at: Notre-Dame-de-Lorette Church, Wendake PQ
Delivered by: David Donnelly, MES LLB
Date: February 4, 2017

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