Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Editorial: A lesson about the use of power

Once destroyed, historical relics are gone forever

The Leader-Post

The man who literally wrote the book on Lake Diefenbaker and the Gardiner Dam gently declined to cast judgment on whether the massive project that built them in the 1960s was worthwhile.


Max Macdonald conceded the project's contributions to irrigation, flood control, recreation and the generation of electricity, but said more time must pass for it to be assessed.

And in his interviews about his 1999 book The Dam The Drought Built, he seemed saddened as he talked about the fate of Mistaseni, the sacred relic - a rock, estimated at 400 tons - in the valley of the South Saskatchewan River. It was a sacred place to First Nations - until the federal and provincial governments agreed to dam the river and somebody, somewhere decreed this sacred stone must go.

A campaign to preserve or even relocate Mistaseni (also spelled "Mistusinne" or "Mistasiniy" and pronounced like "misstoss-annee") was started. The StarPhoenix (where Macdonald was then editor-in-chief) covered it sympathetically.

Despite this, Mistaseni was destroyed by explosives in December 1966. Contemporary sources are lean on why this happened, but they suggest that federal government experts concluded it would endanger boats in the reservoir.

Granted, moving an object of 400 tons would be tough even today, but it's hard to believe this culturally important shrine could not have been left in place, and marked on marine charts and with buoys.

It would have been a gesture of respect to First Nations. It also would have been a reminder that man-made structures are passing things. At some point - maybe a century or two hence - that dam will be dismantled and Mistaseni would be there.

To put this in context, remember the outrage the world felt when the Afghani Taliban blew up centuries-old sculptures in 2000. Or recall how we seethe when a war memorial is desecrated - and you get an idea of the outrageousness of this act. As Macdonald (later the publisher of The Leader-Post) noted in his book, at least one settler's grave was carefully relocated by federal government crews. Why could the same respect not have been accorded to Mistaseni?

With this summer's rediscovery of Mistaseni's remnants by diver Steven Thair and his team, it's been observed that destroying a sacred First Nations object like it simply would not happen today. If so, good.

This story reminds us that governments and developers are not always correct and should respect the legitimate concerns of the people, race notwithstanding, affected by their decisons.

Having the legal authority to destroy something doesn't mean you should.

Let us learn once more from history and from our mistakes - mistakes like the destruction of Mistaseni.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

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