The province government has taken the first step to protect ancestral remains.
For the first time in the history of BC, the government is using the court system to ensure the remains of First Nations peoples are protected.
The move comes after ancient remains of at least seven people were unearthed in an orchard near Keremeos in late February last year while a contractor was leveling a small hill to plant more trees. Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band says the action by the province is a positive one. He says beginning next Monday (11 Sept) a team will be going to the site to undertake archaeological work whether they have the needed permits or not.
Chief Crow says, “Whether the Province chooses to follow through with their commitments, we are moving forward and standing in action with community support. We are going to finish the recovery on September 11; we are not stopping until our ancestors are reburied.”
Victoria’s plan is to make an application to the courts under the Heritage Conservation Act. If approved owners of property would have to restore sites and undertake the needed conservation work. However, there is no time line when the government will actually make the application.
Crow says already over 500 bone fragments have been recovered from the site over a two day period last November.
Crow notes that property owners are not fully co-operating. He says they have canceled meeting with the province and the band for the past 18 months.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillips listed a number of sites in recent history where remains were unearthed and he named just a few… Haynes Point near Osoyoos, Lightning Rock in Manning Provincial Park which is the site of a mass grave dating back to a small pox epidemic and another location on Vancouver Island. Both Lightning Rock and the Vancouver Island sites were destined to be developed one for a private mansion and the other for a condominium.
LSIB, and the Okanagan Nation, insist that the Province of BC must uphold their own laws and policies through the Heritage Conservation Act and ensure the site is protected and the remains are respectfully reburied.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says “What we hear from the Trudeau government and the incoming provincial NDP government is that they intend to respect and follow through with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, but public platitudes are not good enough. We need to see those expressions of good intentions to translate for the necessary legislative reform, policy reform that will enable us to respect our own laws and our own teachings, and do what we are obligated to do in terms of protecting our land and protecting our people”.
Chief Crow is currently meeting with Minister Doug Donaldson, of Forests, Lands Natural Resources Operations and Minister Scott Fraser of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, urging them to move forward with the protection of the LSIB ancestors.
“In regards to our rights, we cannot wait another day or another winter. We will take care of our ancestors. It is our responsibility” Chief Keith Crow