Ancient petroform in Manitoba's Whiteshell park destroyed

A sacred site to Indigenous peoples in Manitoba has been destroyed, sparking outrage from a woman who believes her mission is to protect the site.

Rocks that formed shape of snake at sacred site rearranged into inukshuk

An inukshuk now sits where there was previously an ancient petroform depicting a snake. (Diane Maytwayashing )

A petroform sacred to Indigenous peoples in Manitoba has been destroyed, sparking outrage from a woman who believes her mission is to protect the site.

Diane Maytwayashing was leading a tour group with students on Wednesday in Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park to see the Bannock Point petroforms.

Petroforms are arrangements of rocks that make up the outline of an animal or other distinctive shape when viewed from a distance. The Bannock Point site is a sacred place used from time to time by First Nations people for ceremonial purposes, according to Manitoba Parks and Protected Spaces.

But when Maytwayashing and her group reached the petroforms, they discovered the stones of one — arranged in the shape of a snake — had been rearranged into an inukshuk.

"I felt my heart fall to my stomach. It was really horrible," said Maytwayashing who guides visitors to Bannock Point and Tie Creek.

"It kind of numbed me because it was like a violation was happening."

Maytwayashing, an Anishinaabekwe woman and area guide and educator, said the snake represented a sacred feminine ancient story.

She said the stones are considered as sacred as the Stonehenge in England or the Egyptian pyramids.

"It was a place of gathering for thousands of years."

Maytwayashing believes the destruction of the snake petroform and building of the inukshuk was a malicious act of vandalism.

Manitoba Sustainable Development says petroforms are susceptible to destruction from animals and the weather as well as people, who may unwittingly destroy a petroform by carrying the rocks away to build campfires or deliberately rearrange a site.

Camp planned to secure site

Maytwayashing is now calling on friends to act as security and camp out at the site this weekend. She said she and elders agree it's time to shut the site down to the public.

A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said the province is aware of the incident and conservation officers are now investigating.

"This is an important historic Indigenous site, considered sacred by many people. The vandalism of it is very disappointing," the spokesperson said.

The desecration of the petroform speaks to the need for reconciliation, said Kevin Lamoureux, associate vice-president of Indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg.

"It's a horrendous thing," he said.

But he said he sees an opportunity in the incident to educate Canadians about the historical importance of the site.

"It's going to make us stronger."

with files from Meaghan Ketcheson