With traffic jammed on both sides of the Arthur Laing Bridge, members of the Musqueam Indian Band and supporters sang traditional songs and marched down to Marpole Midden in Vancouver during a peaceful protest to stop developers from building condos on an ancestral village and burial site. Cecilia Point, media rep for Musqueam Indian Band, says that the area of proposed condo development is a national heritage site that contains far more than has been uncovered to date.
“We are defending our rights, and protecting our burial grounds doesn’t seem to be a priority for the colonial government,” Point said. “Taking examples from our friends in Oka and Caledonia, I mean this is how you get the governments attention, and we want them to know that we hope our actions will help them.” Point also said the province has continually allowed development and permit works on this site since the 1890s, illustrating a history of disrespect and non-consultation.
So far the response has been favorable from the City of Vancouver and BC First Nations in supporting the Musqueam. “The Mayor of Vancouver even came down to sign a petition to get the province to rescind the development of the project; even the RCMP have also assisted in our marches. The province, on the other hand, is completely favoring the developer (Century Group); the developer is friends with the Province.”
Point says the developers, Century Group, sponsored a luncheon for the BC Premier a week prior to the march, and the lawyer for Century Group Jeoff Plant is the former attorney general (Province of BC) for this government. “Century Group keeps asking the government to extend the dates on the building permit, and those permits expired June 30; if that was the case, we could all go home here, but province has extended three times already, and our legal council is saying, ‘Look, this isn’t right.’”
Bob Ransford, spokesperson for Century Group responded to hosting the luncheon for the BC Premier. “Century Group has been members of the Delta Business community for more than 52 years and has participated with the Delta Chamber of Commerce for many, many years and regularly sponsor events that the Delta Chamber of Commerce hosts as a business in the local community, and they sponsored this lunch a long with other sponsors.” Ransford also said they hope to come to some agreement to end the protests. “We understand their concerns, and we’re trying to resolve the issues. In fact, we have met with them three or four times since June 13 and hope we can come to a resolution that the Musqueam Indian Band can buy the property.”
Support for the Musqueam includes 3,000 petition signatures, as well as a reach of nearly 50,000 people on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. They’ve received a stream of support from Chiefs, representatives, and people both locally and internationally, including First Nations and Metis leaders and Amnesty International and Greenpeace. The band says Marpole Midden site on southwest Marine Drive has ancestral burial grounds dating back at least 4,500 years. “It was a winter village,” Point says. “The reason there are hundreds of bodies here is because of a small pox epidemic in the 1800s, but in fact our people knew this was a burial ground, because the bodies they have found do date back to 4000 years.”
Only $4.8 million has been offered so far, but other cash compensations will also be paid by the government to the Musqueam. If the proposed 108 condo unit development is not built, everyone who bought into condos will be duly compensated.