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Walking the Talk, Aboriginal Health Center Refuses to Build on Possible Catholic Burial Land

An aboriginal health care center is walking away from a much-needed potential location because it may rest atop a Catholic burial ground.
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Pitched battles are being fought all across North America and beyond by indigenous groups protecting ancestral burial grounds. So when leaders at Anishnawbe Health Toronto (AHT) got a call recently letting them know that a prime spot for a new health center could be part of the city’s oldest Catholic burial ground, they felt they had no choice but to walk away.

“The irony is not lost on us,” Anishnawbe Health Toronto Executive Director Joe Hester told The Toronto Star. At the same time, it’s something of a no-brainer. “It’s a burial site.”

The discovery that the land at 51 Power Road might contain remains was something of a setback for AHT. The accredited community health care center, founded in 1989, serves the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) 85,000 aboriginal people with a mix of traditional healing and modern health care. Its role has grown over the years, according to the center’s website, to include caring for the homeless and offering training programs to community members. The center is funded by the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network.

Currently AHT is stuck in three locations and is hard-up for a piece of land on which to build a facility that would house all its functions. According to the Star, client visits have increased by 8 percent since 2009, and Hester told the newspaper he expects 5 percent increases annually.

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AHT had already spent more than $200,000 for studies and an architectural rendering of a facility on the site, part of which is currently a dog run. But in July, Toronto City Councilor Pam McConnell told the health care center’s officials that the lot, a few meters from the cemetery at the St. Paul Basilica, was not necessarily devoid of remains.

AHT has been searching for a new spot for 10 years, the Star reported.