The project site which has now been cleared of trees. (Courtesy of Shari Underwood)

Archaeologist monitoring building work on Tsawout First Nation amid burial ground concerns

Some in community claim construction has potentially disturbed historic graves, contractor disagrees

A group of Tsawout First Nation members are upset at construction work on reserve land that they believe is a former burial ground. The members report there are plans to move the topsoil, extracted as part of the project, to local farms.

The land is privately owned by a band councillor, who is in the process of having an RV Park built on the site.

With echos of the recent logging dispute on Saturna Island, band members are asking if reserve land is being used for profit instead of being preserved. They also accuse councillors of passing resolutions supporting their own projects, without the wider scrutiny of full community consultation.

Vanessa Claxton remembers elders telling her the stones were burial markers, and she worries that as well as being a desecration of her relatives’ graves, the topsoil could pose a threat to human health.

“People could be eating their strawberries grown from soil with remains in,” she says.

ALSO READ: Logging halts as Tsawout leadership launches legal action against members of their community

Tsawout councillor Mavis Underwood says the project site is private and she and council are unaware of the development, with no plans to intervene.

Chief and council have been engaged in a number of projects to raise revenue for community initiatives, and Underwood notes that many in the community believe commercial projects stimulate much needed economic development.

Due to the Tsawout maintaining an oral tradition, it is difficult to say with any certainty if the site is a burial ground.

An archaeological survey was conducted by Millennia Research Ltd. on Jan. 18, 2018, at the behest of the company seeking to build the RV Park. It rated part of the project site “archaeologically high,” and determined “the project has sufficient archaeological potential to require an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA).” Four petroforms, often culturally significant stacks of rocks and sometimes grave markers, were observed by an archaeologist within the project boundary or the mapped access road. Piles of seashells were found in and around the petroforms and the proximity of a natural spring, a valuable resource in the past, suggested the petroforms could hold historical significance. However, the report states that although old, covered by moss and with three trees growing from them, the petroforms are probably not quite old enough to be burial cairns.

ALSO READ: Bitter Saturna land-use dispute highlights legal grey areas

Claxton disagrees and says she has compiled testimony from community members familiar with the site. Some elders report there used to be houses on the land and the owners were buried next to the structures when they died.

“Our ceremonial and cultural knowledge keeper [community historian] said that it was my great-great-grandmother and her family’s gravesite by one of the houses that is no longer there,” she says.

The archaeology report doesn’t make reference to these possible graves but focuses on the petroforms. “Although the petroform is not believed to be a burial cairn at this time, its nature and purpose remain unknown and therefore the archaeological potential is considered high until it has been investigated.”

The report concluded by advising further hand testing, partial excavations and avoiding damaging or removing one of the petroforms.

Soil deposits found to contain human remains off-reserve are subject to scrutiny from a number of government agencies. Reserve land is more difficult to oversee, with a host of municipal, provincial and federal agencies all saying they don’t have the power to investigate.

READ ALSO: Coroner service launches interactive unidentified human remains tool

Indigenous Services Canada, confirmed that Tsawout First Nation reserve land was transferred from Canada to the band when it began operating under its own First Nation Land Management land code on May 29, 2007. Legally, contractors are obliged to stop work and make a report to police if they find human remains.

Further, the department states, “If there is high potential for the discovery for archaeological remains, often a secondary survey is undertaken immediately before the soil is disturbed or an archaeological professional is on site supervising the operation.”

Millennia Research Ltd. confirmed they were not engaged to complete any further assessments, and declined to comment on their report’s contents or if Tsawout members told them about gravesites in the interviews they conducted.

The owners of the RV park who commissioned the survey said they had followed all legal procedures, were employing an on-site archaeologist at their own expense throughout the building process and had received band council approval.

What happened to the petroforms is unclear, as recent video shot by Shari Underwood shows a barren work site, cleared of trees, vegetation and features.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

An artist’s impression of the proposed RV site. (From the Millennia Research Limited archaeological report)

Just Posted

Supreme Court Judge rules medicinal marijuana company must vacate farm in Central Saanich

Evergreen Medicinal Supply Inc must vacate no later than Aug. 31, 2019

Opposition to gravel quarry in Highlands gains traction

Impact on drinking water a major concern

Greater Victoria sees crime severity index rise

Fraud cases rise 31 per cent over previous year

Victoria’s Our Place Society celebrates belated 50th anniversary with block party

The 900-block of Pandora will close for a celebration on July 28

Victoria post-secondary schools reveal most popular programs

Camosun College, the University of Victoria and Royal Roads University share students’ top picks

VIDEO: Man found dead near B.C. teens’ truck could be linked to a double homicide

RCMP said they are looking for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, of Port Alberni

Family of missing B.C. senior with dementia frustrated with situation, heartened by community support

Nine days since Grace was last seen the question remains: ‘How can an 86-year-old just disappear?’

Okanagan Air Cadet challenges gender-exclusive haircut policy

Haircut regulation inspires challenge around gender identity

Latest plan is to fly trapped fish by helicopter over Big Bar slide

Multi-pronged plan set in motion to freesalmon blocked by landslide in the Fraser River

Police ask for help locating missing men last seen in South Surrey

Jeep that Richard Scurr and Ryan Provencher were in has been located unoccupied in Logan Lake: RCMP

VIDEO: Bystander training gains traction as tool to prevent sexual harassment, violence

Julia Gartley was sexually assaulted after an event, and no one stepped in to help

Sexual assaults, extortion on the rise even as crime rates stay low: Stats Canada

Rates of police-reported sexual assault rose for the fourth year in a row

Vancouver Island teens missing after vehicle found ablaze near Dease Lake, BC

RCMP say a body discovered nearby not one of the missing teens

Most Read