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

Sidney’s Star Cinema puts on the ritz for Downton Abbey

Special screening of the aristocractic period piece marks theatre’s 21st anniversary

Judge quashes Victoria man’s appeal of 90 day weekend sentence for trafficking meth

Godofredo Narboneta Ruiz was the owner, driver of vehicle used to transport the drugs

Reynolds Secondary principal pens letter to parents after student involved in fatal crash

Various supports available to students, staff and community

Attendance matters for Saanich Peninsula students

Achievement depends on attendance, hundreds of students heard

Oak Bay United preparing entirely new development application

Three scenarios being considered for Granite Street redesign

WATCH: United Way #Drive4Five event launches campaign to raise $5 million

More than 80,000 lives changed last year by the United Way

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for the week of September 17

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Rick Mercer calls out Conservative candidate in B.C. for fake meme

‘Not true. All fake. Please Stop,’ tweeted Rick Mercer in response

Bear killed in Kimberley after chasing girl, wreaking havoc on town

This particular brown-coloured bear has been the subject of many calls this summer; very food habituated, CO says

Vancouver Island man bikes through B.C. Interior for mental health, addiction awareness

Vancouver Island Resident Mat Fee is approaching the final phase of his cross-Canada bike journey to raise awareness about addiction recovery.

Boy overdosed on illicit anti-anxiety drug found on Kelowna classroom floor, RCMP say

Noah Mills, 8, ingested a pink powdery substance off his Kelowna classroom floor

BC SPCA investigating after three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Psychiatric assessment ordered for man accused in Salmon Arm church shooting

Lawyer tells court accused was diagnosed with psychosis hours after his arrest

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Most Read