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Development sparks protest when human remains unearthed
Members of the Musqueam First Nation are embroiled in talks with a Vancouver condo developer, the province and the city following a dispute over a parcel of land where protesters say ancestral remains were unearthed.
In the early morning hours of March 12, about 50 Musqueam band members gathered at the 1300 block of Southwest Marine Drive demanding that the developer of the South Vancouver property call off construction after workers discovered intact human remains on the land late in January.
Construction was halted when the remains were uncovered but plans to continue development were set for last month.
But just as bulldozers and backhoes were to break ground, the crew was met with a large group of placard-toting protesters.
The area, known as the Marpole Midden, or c–YsnaîYm, was a traditional village site occupied by the Musqueam for more than 4,000 years.
Protestor and Musqueam band member Aaron Wilson said the demonstration went on for three days with community members visiting the area in solidarity.
“It’s important to us because cultural respect for our ancestors is so important,” explained Wilson.
“It’s such a universal issue. I consider it a human issue,” he added. “It’s respect for all grave sites,” he said.
Talks between the land owner, the Musqueam people and the government began March 13 and parties agreed that a three-week halt on construction would commence so that a resolution to the issue could be reached.
As of March 23 talks were ongoing, confirmed Wade Grant, elected councillor for the Musqueam band.
“We’ve said they can knock down the buildings on the site but not dig,” Grant added.
“Our community is looking to protect the whole site,” he explained.
“Our stance is that we don’t want to disturb the site because it is the last connection we have to our ancestors who are over 5,000 years old.”
The Musqueam band is upset that they were never properly consulted and their input not respected prior to digging.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t have an opportunity to find a solution prior to the issue of development,” said Grant.
“They [the province] have never protect the site in the way we would have hoped they would,” he stated.
But according to Brennan Clark, spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the province sent the draft management plan to the Musqueam Indian Band for comment in December 2008 but did not receive a response from the Musqueam until the current permit application was referred to them.
Further, the Ministry said the site has seen significant disturbance over the years. The majority of the area has been heavily disturbed.
The Ministry confirmed that the work has stopped in the area near where the intact remains were discovered. The remains have not been removed and will not be disturbed until an archaeologist has completed intensive testing in the vicinity to determine if there are additional remains in the area.
The Ministry said the additional testing is at the express request of the Musqueam people. The province said is following the appropriate archaeological methodologies to preserve remains at the site and the proposed site management plan would preserve half the site in perpetuity while still allowing for reasonable development of the land.
In an email to CBC News, developer Gary Hackett allegedly stated that his family has owned the property for more than 50 years.
“The land in question … has been built on and its soil disturbed over many years and there are existing structures on the property,” Hackett said.
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