Condo project on First Nation burial site sparks protest
Published Monday, March 12, 2012 7:22PM PDT
A showdown is underway between the Musqueam First Nation and a private land owner who wants to build condos on what the band says is a sacred burial ground.
On Monday, a group of demonstrators determined to stop development by the north end of Arthur Laing Bridge in Vancouver protested near the national historical site known as Marpole Midden.
"This is a grave site that they want to build condos on and to us that's unacceptable," protester Aaron Wilson told CTV News.
"It's one of the largest and oldest archeological sites on the Pacific Northwest, and in it are numerous priceless heritage materials, cultural materials and the ancestral remains of our people," he added.
The group managed to stop the project from getting underway Monday, but the developer has a city permit.
Another protester, Henry Charles, says he wants all Vancouver citizens to work together to keep the burial ground intact.
"This is one ancient village that should be protected forever," Charles said.
But Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem says the city has very little control over the issue.
"The issue of the archeological site, which is of great significance and of significant concern to the city, is not our jurisdiction, not our mandate. We can't deny a building permit or a development permit," Ballem said.
The province can stop the project, but it's allowing it to go ahead under strict supervision.
"The provincial permit says you dig and you look at what you've dug up very, very carefully," Ballem said. "And if you come across anything more discernible as remains, you must stop."
The land's owner says the condos will be built adjacent to the Marpole Midden in an area that has already seen significant building over the years.
A statement from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations shows the province is trying to strike a compromise.
"This proposed management plan would preserve half the site in perpetuity while still allowing for reasonable development of the site. The Archeology Branch is satisfied that the… plan balances the condition of the site with the interest of the private land owner," the statement said.
But protesters say the entire site needs to be preserved and that they will show up every day to try and stop the machines from digging.
"We still have the traditional territory rights for this area," Charles said. "Our ancestors are also buried here and they should be left, left alone to rest in peace."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Shannon Paterson