Fort Smith's RCMP detachment. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A resident who found human remains in Fort Smith last month says he’s troubled by the response from the coroner and RCMP.
Ken Hudson, a former president of the Fort Smith Métis Council, told Cabin Radio he found human and canine bones while setting a net for fishing.
He was with his brother when he found the bones, said Hudson.
“We both knew right off, by the look of the bones, that they weren’t recent. They were older bones, the colour of them was kind-of orange, orangey-yellow,” he said of the discovery, which took place last month.
After Hudson reported the bones to the RCMP, he says he was told the coroner would keep the bones until next of kin for the person whose remains were found comes forward.
But how the next of kin would know to come forward was not immediately clear.
The NWT coroner’s office told Cabin Radio the remains are not believed to be related to any people recently declared missing in Fort Smith. (The search continues for Frank Gruben, reported missing in Fort Smith at the start of May, and the coroner took care to make clear that there is not thought to be any connection.)
Chief coroner Garth Eggenberger wrote in an email that his office is investigating the remains but would not share further details during that investigation.
RCMP, meanwhile, confirmed receiving a report of discovered human remains on May 26 and said a historical case unit is working with the coroner. Police directed all further questions to the coroner’s office.
‘These are sacred things’
Hudson said two aspects of the authorities’ approach trouble him: the apparent lack of further investigation for more remains, and the coroner reportedly keeping the bones until a family member steps forward.
Hudson said when he reported the discovery to RCMP in Fort Smith, he accompanied officers to the site, less than a kilometre from the RCMP landing. He says police spent at most 15 minutes there, even as Hudson borrowed a police shovel to continue digging and found more bones. Some appeared to him to be those of a dog. Another, he was less certain of.
Hudson said he continued to fish near the site for the next five days but saw no further police presence.
Asked what happens to the bones handed to the coroner, Eggenberger’s office reiterated that it will not discuss details of the case.
Hudson said the coroner could handle things differently, given that Fort Smith, like many northern communities, is a small, close-knit town.
Community members can look at old maps and figure out which families lived in the area of the discovery at the time the person passed away, he suggested, speculating that Fort Smith’s 1968 landslide could be involved.
But Hudson said he also wants the bones to be respected.
“As you know, Aboriginal people, we like to treat the bones with respect and have a proper burial here in the graveyard,” he said.
“These are sacred things, when you think about a graveyard and all the people in it, and these remains are no different.”