By Medicine Hat News Opinion on June 4, 2021.
Medicine Hat’s “Indian Cemetery” is no secret.
For a while, at least, the shallow grave sites which utilized blankets rather than caskets were marked with simple wooden fences scattered across what is now Scholten Hill during the early 20th century.
Those markings have long been lost to time.
The skeletal remains still exist after being recovered during both official excavations and as unofficial ones as the development of the city expanded.
But Hatters will not see a plaque, written reference to it in easily accessible municipal documents or hear much about it from the city’s elected officials.
But it’s there.
In 1900, Medicine Hat documented an Indigenous funeral procession and the march up the hill to a burial site along with the simple items included in the burial.
In the 1950s, this newspaper reported about how a bulldozer uncovered Indigenous remains along with a picture of the city coroner holding up one of the recovered skulls.
In the 1960s, the News wrote how children playing on the hillside came across human skeletal remains.
In the 2010s, the News reported how a local man was trying to see some of those remains repatriated after being excavated by the University of Alberta in the Scholten Hill area.
The revelations this week regarding the geological study that located unmarked graves didn’t surprise anyone familiar with the Kamloops residential school – though the number of bodies did.
Nor should it come as a surprise that Scholten Hill has been a place where local Indigenous groups buried their dead, though the numbers that could still be there might.
The archaeological record and oral First Nations’ history of the area now known as East Glen is full of evidence of the Indigenous occupation of the area.
The modern Indigenous occupation of what became Saratoga Park is even more pronounced and documented.
Along with the burials around Scholten Hill, there is also references in the News of remains recovered during the development of the city. They even include references of being re-interned during the early 20th century in what was then called the “Indian Cemetery.”
If one wishes to understand the Hat’s legacy of treating the Indigenous community, one needs only to look at the Old Hillside Cemetary – with its manicured grass and memorial stone carin with brass plaque – to the Scholten Hill burial site.
The former is full of European pioneers of the region.
The latter, containing the bodies of the region’s original residents, doesn’t even have a sign despite the grounds, at minimum, dating from the same era.
The remains in the Old Hillside Cemetery remained largely undisturbed.
Some of the remains from Scholten Hill sit in storage at the University of Alberta – many others, no one is quite sure.
The next city council meeting might feature expressions of condolence for victims of our country’s residential school history triggered by the discovery of the Kamloops grave sites. But if they are truly interested in reconciliation, they may want to recognize the fact an unmarked gravesite is sitting in their backyard.
That might be a good first step in turning well-meaning platitudes in the long journey to repairing the nation’s relationship with First Nations.
Alex McCuaig is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Medicine Hat News