WHEN IS A GRAVE NOT A GRAVE?

WARRIORS AND PROTECTORS OF THEIR ANCESTORS

For over a year now the Musqueam Nation has been making peaceful, innovative and positive ways to stop the development of an important village and midden site known as”. As with any village site, there are graves, graves of the ancestors that are needing protection. This area is sacred grounds for the Musqueam. This is such an important site that the Federal Government in 1933 declared it a Historic Site.

The property is held in fee simple, which of course is subject to aboriginal title of the Musqueam and provincial laws. The Heritage Conservation Act applies to private property. Middens and burial sites are protected in the act to a certain extent. S. 13(2) states that you cannot DAMAGE, DESECRATE OR ALTER a provincial heritage site or object or a burial site that has historical or archaeological value or remove human remains from a heritage site. Unfortunately, under s. 12, the Minister may issue a permit to alter, damage or desecrate a site or object or human remains that s. 13 seeks to protect. The object of the act is to encourage and facilitate the protection and conservation of heritage property in BC and yet that same act allows the damage, desecration or alteration of a heritage site or object or human remains, the very things the act is trying to protect and conserve. Doesn’t make sense to me.

If a person has knowledge of a heritage site or object or a site is recorded such as this one, they must apply to the Heritage branch to alter, damage or descrate the site. Since this was a well documented area, the developer knew that they had to go through this process and were aware burial sites had been found on this site before. The Musqueam provided to the Archaeology Branch the importance and significance of this site. The Archaeology Branch/Minister took into account the Musqueam’s statements on site significance and private property rights, and decided that private property rights and development were more important in this instance. The order to allow the alteration to the site and disturb a burial ground did not begin to fall within the purposes of the Act.

The government knowingly provided permission to the developer to desecrate and damage known burial sites. The remains of two infants and two adults were found. If the government gave an order to dig up a cemetery to protect the private property rights of an owner who wanted to turn it into condos the world would be in an uproar. Outrage, disgust, and sheer horror would erupt from the general public at a pace and ferocity that would cause the government to back off doing such a thing. Cemeteries are protected by the Cemetery and Funeral Act of BC so this could never happen to an established cemetery. First Nations burial sites are not afforded the same protection and are subject to the whims of the Archaeology Branch and the designated decision maker.

The grave of a non First Nations person is protected. That is why I ask, when is a grave not a grave? The answer is simple: the grave of a First Nations person is not protected if it happens to be on Crown or private lands and a development that will produce jobs and money is at stake.

There is definitely something wrong with this picture, with this system, with the ability of one person to say “dig up those graves”. Why do First Nations people have to occupy a burial site, rally and protest at the legislature, heighten awareness with government and the public about the importance of a gravesite. Surely, respect should be given to gravesites regardless of where they are located.

So many First Nations burial sites have been desecrated mostly with the permission of the BC Government under the Heritage Act, the Act that should protect these sites. Some First Nations have moved the bones of their ancestors under great protest, and others have refused. Poet’s Cove on Vancouver Island is another example of the great desecration of numerous graves that were disturbed for the sake of a resort. For some, fines paid are the cost of doing business. Such callous behavior should not be acceptable.

The Musqueam have offered to trade lands and have been willing participants if talking with the government and the developer. They continue their occupation of the lands to protect what is important to them.

You can help. Sign their petition located at www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/stop-the-immediate-destruction-of-indigenous-burial-sites/943

Read Chief Ernie Campbell’s letter to the Editor: www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Musqueam+seek+alternative+condos+burial+site/6621900/story.html

Visit the Facebook page “Protect the village and midden site of c??sna??m “and find out what the Musqueam are doing and why. Write MLA’s, the Premier, Ministers. Get others to do the same. Write letters to the Editor, talk to media. Make this an issue that the government has to respond to. Go visit the Musqueam at the site. Sit with them and stand in solidarity with them. The Musqueam need our help! Do what you can so this doesn’t continue happening all over the province.

 

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