The need for reform of heritage conservation laws in a British Columbia province has pitted the Sumas First Nation against a developer.
John Glazema, director of Corpus Management Group, who lives in the City of Abbotsford, purchased a 160-acre property of farm and woodland in 2011, reports CBC News. His plan was to construct a $40-million residential and industrial, including a retail mall that would sell farm equipment.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Glazema told CBC News. “We’re there to support the agricultural community that keeps this community alive, that employs more people than any other industry.”
But ancestors of the Sumas First Nation are said to be buried there.
“We were told to stay away from there,” Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver told CBC. “In the language of our old people, they said ‘chi,’ which meant the spirits, were there. We were told the ancestors were buried there.”
Silver told CBC he was “relieved” when construction of the group’s development was stopped, but that confrontations between property owners and First Nations would continue until the government makes reforms.
“Non-native people have all kinds of protections around their cemeteries, yet the province won’t recognize ours,” he told CBC.
“We don’t want to spoil the relationship with our neighbours … the government needs to step in and be part of the solution to the mess we’re in right now.”
The burials are at a spiritual site called Lightning Rock and date back to 1782, when smallpox reduced the Sumas population by 80 percent.
CBC News reports that archaeologists have found more than 40 earthen mounds on the property, which are believed to be burial mounds.
“This is a hot spot in the cultural landscape,” Dave Schaepe, of the Stó:l? Resource Management Centre, which conducted the archaeological assessment in 2006, told CBC.
“It’s a bit surprising that a new property owner would have purchased this property without somehow being made aware of what was reported here a number of years ago as a result of an official assessment,” Schaepe told CBC. But Glazema had no idea.
According to CBC, the province does keep a registry of First Nations graves and spiritual sites, but it’s not on land title documents when a property is purchased, and there is not a system to inform owners. And, under British Columbia’s current Heritage Conservation Act, the owner pays for any archaeological assessments, and incurs any associated risk is sites are destroyed.
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