Musqueam march on 100th day of burial site vigil
A planned protest over the fate of the Marpole Midden went ahead Friday, despite assurances from B.C.'s aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister that a cash-for-land deal is close.
About 100 Musqueam band members and supporters marched Friday morning and blocked traffic for about 45 minutes on the Granville Street on-ramp to Vancouver's Arthur Laing Bridge.
The bridge sits next to an ancient village site that is threatened by development, and the Musqueam First Nation's march marked 100 days of band members standing vigil over and blocking access to the site.
In May, protesters taking part in a march from the midden site blocked traffic on the Arthur Laing Bridge for more than two hours.
Human remains were unearthed earlier this year at the property, which is in the 1300-block of S.W. Marine Drive.
B.C. Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister Mary Polak said Thursday that the province has offered money to the Musqueam First Nation for three pieces of land.
She said it should be more than enough for the band to purchase the 3,000-year-old village site from the owner, who planned to build a condominium on the property.
In June, the province paid the Musqueam $4.8 million in compensation for one of three pieces of land that are part of major projects such as a new transit line.
Polak said the government will offer another $12 million for the remaining two pieces of land, and the money should exceed the midden owner's asking price.
But some band members say the province's cash offer is money owed to the First Nation anyway.
"That's our money, that's for other deals that have nothing to do with this, and we are choosing to redirect that money to buy back that land (on Marpole Midden)," band member Rhiannon Bennett told reporters on Thursday.
"That is not money they are providing for us out of the goodness of their heart so we can buy the land back."
The band had originally wanted to do a land swap to protect the Marpole Midden, but the deal was not signed off.
Musqueam spokesperson Cecilia Point said the band also wants construction work on the site to stop immediately.
The owner of the midden lands and developer Century Holdings began clearing the site late in 2011 with the intention of building a five-storey commercial and residential complex.
Construction was halted briefly in January when the remains of two adults, two babies, and the partial skeleton of another baby were found.
Polak said the permit allowing the developer to dig in the area where the remains were found was been terminated under the provincial Heritage Conservation Act.
But a second operating permit for a different area of the site has been extended on a bi-weekly basis while negotiations with the Musqueam band are ongoing.
A matter of time
Point said the band wants the province to rescind that permit, which is allowing the site to be disturbed.
"Thousands have signed our petition in support for rescinding these permits," Point said in a press release earlier in the week.
During Friday's march, the band dispatched traditional Musqueam runners who carried the petition to Premier Christy Clark's office in Vancouver.
"In delivering this message directly, we call on the Province once again to consider what they would do for their loved ones – and to enforce the protection of our burial site as they would any cemetery," Point said.
She said every day that passes is another day of damage done to ancestors' remains.
"We can see the nylon tents falling apart in the weather and we are worried about the effects of exposure on the open graves," she said.
Polak said since the land is privately owned and protected by private property laws, the province cannot rescind the operating permit.
"The complicating factor here is this isn't Crown land, this is private property," she said.
"If you were developing a garage on your property and found remains, you have the right to expect that the law will unfold as it's already laid out."
With files from The Canadian Press