Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Ignorant Majority - Archaeological Discovery and Land Claims

The Ignorant Majority -  Archaeological Discovery and Land Claims

    Guest Post by Kathleen Cottrell

     The past is important in shaping the future. Claims for the land of Canada by a multitude of nations who occupied the land and lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived seeking to plunder its many resources and subsequently settle this so-called empty land for the taking are ongoing. The archaeological discovery made near Sechelt, BC, offers further evidence that Canada was populated by many nations who were highly civilized long before the arrival of Europeans.

Salish Sea Sechelt BC

     With respect to the Sechelt nation, a recent discovery by archaeologists of the burial site of an ancient Shishalh chief of great importance was reported in the Coast Reporter on August 3, 2012. The 4,000 year old burial site is reported to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in British Columbia by Dr. Terence Clark of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The work by archaeologists, Dr. Terence Clark and Gary Coupland, professor at the University of Toronto, has been ongoing since 2010. The most significant discovery is that of an individual buried with over 350,000 hand crafted stone beads, which indicates chiefly status and importance.
Sechelt Indian Band Chief Gary Feschuk indicates that the Sechelt Indian Band wants the historic site returned to them. The province of British Columbia has placed a map reserve on the area, which keeps the area safe from development for 10 years. Chief Feschuk says that the map reserve is a temporary fix for now, but what needs to be done is to have the land returned to them. He also says that the Sechelt Band should have final say on what happens on their land. The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation indicates that while reconciliation agreement negotiations are done, discussion is continuing on protection of the Salmon Inlet archaeological site along with other matters. The fact that the Sechelt even need to ask for control of the land that their ancestors are buried in is a great reminder of the fact that with colonialism they lost control of the lands they occupied for many thousands of years. The Sechelt have occupied this area for at least four thousand years, as evidenced by the remains found in the Salmon Inlet Burial Site. This site is part of the provincial Crown lands that the Sechelt want to add to their present land and resource base (McKee, 45-46).

     This article highlights the impact that colonialism has had on Indigenous peoples of Canada, specifically the Sechelt, with regards to the loss of elders to diseases like smallpox. The untimely death of elders has weakened the richness of their oral history, because the stories die with the people. The population of Indigenous people in BC in the 1700s was estimated to be 250,000 or more, but by 1929 the number had dropped to 23,000. (Muckle, 64) Without the people to pass down history, places like the Burial Site at Salmon Inlet, and the important ancestors buried there, are lost and forgotten. The efforts by Europeans to assimilate individuals through attendance at residential schools has brought about the loss of language for many individuals who are unable to pass down stories and consequently because of this loss, have lost the sense of belonging and pride of being part of a proud Indigenous nation.

     The Canadian Government issued an apology for the Indian Residential School System on June 11, 2008. The apology acknowledges the many negative outcomes of the schools including the damage to Aboriginal culture, heritage and language. The government acknowledges that one of the goals of residential schools was to assimilate Aboriginal children into Canadian culture by removing them from their homes and keeping them from learning their culture and traditions. Residential schools are also recognized as having been a major contributor to the many social problems facing Aboriginal people today (Muckle, 163-164).

     In 1986, Bill C-93, the Sechelt Indian Band Act, is enacted by parliament. The act gives the Sechelt 'municipal-style' powers of self-government” (McKee, 145). The Sechelt also signed the Sechelt Agreement in Principle (AIP) on April 16, 1999. This was following five years of negotiations. “It is the first AIP achieved through the treaty process, and it is the first example of a future urban treaty in British Columbia. Final negotiations regarding the AIP are under way and will lead to the conclusion of a Final Agreement” (101).

     The Sechelt Indian Band is dealing with the Burial Site at Salmon Inlet in a different way from the Musqueam with the Marpole Midden site. The Musqueum have no desire for their ancestors to be dug up and studied; they just want their ancestors put to rest and to be given the same respect as non-native burial sites or cemeteries (Musqueam Nation). The Sechelt want the Salmon Inlet site studied to enable their history to be documented, specifically by the youth involved in the process, so they have a record of their origins, and to be able to share that with future generations.

     The Indigenous or First Nations youth of Canada, need to learn the history, culture and traditions of their band or nation. The high school history textbooks used in British Columbia public schools have been criticized for their lack of including Indigenous people in their role as being part of the shaping of Canada, in favour of the British and French accounts (Furniss, 14). “Native cultures are often presented as static, as lacking history prior to European contact” (15).

     The nation, or municipality, of Sechelt is striving to revitalize and at the same time create an identity that the youth can embrace and be proud of. This discovery at Salmon Inlet has invited and encouraged the participation of Sechelt youth. The sense of pride they have in being part of such an important discovery portraying a past civilization of wealth and status is shown when the students dubbed a flat rock pointing towards the place of burial of an elder, “pride rock”. Several students have expressed an interest in going on to study archaeology.

     The article is a news article, whose audience seems to be limited to the local residents of the Sunshine Coast. That this news of an incredible archaeological discovery was not picked up by a provincial or national newspaper is remarkable. It indicates the lack of interest that our nation as a whole has for hearing of evidence that the Indigenous peoples of Canada were organized civilizations before the arrival of Europeans. The evidence suggests chiefly status structures similar to royalty in other cultures. The fact that this article did not go further in publication is an indication of the lack of interest in land claims in general.

     The title of the article, “SIB will fight to protect 4,000-year-old burial site”, was perhaps a poorly chosen one. The word fight is not a word that conjures up peaceful negotiations. Nowhere in the article does the Sechelt Indian Band chief Gary Feschuk use the word fight to indicate the fact that he wants the land returned and protected. He does indicate that the Sechelt Indian Band should have final say over the land, just as the premier of BC has indicated that BC should have final say over what happens with regard to the proposed pipeline.

     The article also fails to mention the British Columbia Heritage Conservation Act and the Indian Act which protects the prehistoric past of British Columbia. It is illegal to disturb an archaeological site not on a reserve without a permit. It is illegal under the federal Indian Act to remove pictographs, petroglyphs and carved poles from reserves (Muckle, 17). It should be noted that the Musqueam Nation has not been able to have the Marpole Midden site protected by the Heritage Conservation Act. The developer of the property has been issued a permit to continue developing the site. The Musqueam people assert that they have never given up the land (Musqueam Nation).

     It will be interesting to see what other discoveries are made at this site as the archaeologists and the community of Sechelt continue to work together to document the past. The fact that the discovery contained more beads than any other discovery to date from Alaska to California is enough reason to look forward to future discoveries. The past is important in shaping the future and this is no less important for the Sechelt people as it is for all Indigenous people in Canada.

Works Cited
Furniss, Elizabeth. “Pioneers, Progress, and the Myth of the Frontier: The Landscape of Public History in Rural British Columbia.” BC Studies: Native Peoples and Colonialism. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1998. 7-44. Print.
McKee, Christopher. Treaty Talks in British Columbia: Building a New Relationship. 3rd ed. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009. Print.
Muckle, Robert J. The First Nationis of British Columbia: an anthropological survey. 2nd ed. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. Print.
Musqueam Nation. Protect Musqueam's heritage site. Vancouver, BC: Musqueam Nation, 2012. N. Pag. Print.
Wood, Christine. “SIB will fight to protect 4,000-year-old burial site.” Coast Reporter [Sechelt, BC] 3 Aug. 2012: 1+. Print.

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