B.C.'s Minister for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation says she's disappointed the Musqueam First Nation chose to disrupt traffic in Vancouver during the morning rush hour on Thursday.

Protesters blocked traffic on the Arthur Laing Bridge in South Vancouver in an attempt to stop construction at an ancient village and burial site known as the Marpole Midden.

The protest, which began by blocking traffic in both directions shortly after 7 a.m. PT, wrapped up at around 9:30 a.m.

The First Nation says the province is blocking a land-swap deal it has negotiated with the city and the developer to protect the 3,000 year-old village site.

But Minister Mary Polak says negotiations to save the site are ongoing, and she urged the band to be patient.          


Protesters from the Musqueam First Nation blocked traffic on Vancouver's Arthur Laing Bridge on Thursday morning. (CBC)

"It's disappointing that members of the Musqueam community chose to take that action. Certainly we believe discussions around the table are much more likely to result in a resolution and we hope we can get there," said Polak.

But Musqueam spokesperson Cecilia Point says the protest was necessary to get the government to re-start the negotiations.

"We had an action outside of Mountain View Cemetery, so that maybe if politicians had people buried there then maybe they would know what we feel like. We had a mock development permit there, you know, they're digging up our families, and we were also in Robson Square and we didn't get their attention, so this is a last ditch effort to get their attention," said Point.

The Musqueam protesters are promising to escalate protests further if a deal with the province can't be reached.

Human remains unearthed

The band first launched a series of protests earlier this year after human remains from ancient burials were unearthed at the site  on the 1300-block of S.W. Marine Drive in January during the course of archaeological work being undertaken by the developer.

Since then work on the five-storey commercial and residential complex has been stalled and the band is demanding the provincial government step in and approve their offer to exchange another piece of land with the developer for the site.

The Musqueam First Nation does not own the land in question, but the Marpole Midden was designated as a Canadian Heritage Site in 1933. While the federal government has recognized the importance of the historical site, it's up to the provincial government to protect it.

The province says its role in the dispute is limited because the land is privately owned, but one of the development permits is under review.

The developer says the land has been in his family for more than 50 years and the ground has already been disturbed by previous developments on the site.

Marpole Midden facts:

  • The Marpole Midden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1933 because it is the site of one of the largest pre-contact middens on the Pacific coast of Canada.
  • This massive midden site contains remains of a Coast Salish winter village dating from the Marpole phase culture, as well as shellfish remains and various artifacts from early inhabitants of the site found in an average depth of 1.5 metres and a maximum depth of 4.6 metres, dating from 1500 to 2900 years ago.
  • The excavation of this extensive midden led by Charles Hill Tout, in 1892, has stimulated archaeological study of other such prehistoric refuse heaps on the Pacific slope.
  • By 1955, urban expansion had significantly altered the landscape of Marpole Midden, covering the site in homes, infrastructure and other typical urban features.

Source: Canada's Historic Places