British Columbia

Alleged logging at ancient First Nation burial site in B.C. prompts province to investigate

Officials are investigating alleged logging at an ancient shíshálh Nation burial site, after a former band councillor and his partner found felled trees around the site last week.

Former shíshálh Nation band councillor discovered the damage during visit to the site last week

Images of the shíshálh burial site on the east side of Sechelt Inlet, on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, before and after logging. A former shíshálh Nation band councillor hopes someone will be held accountable for the damage to the site, which he calls 'heartbreaking.' (Jessica Silvey)

Officials with the B.C. government are investigating alleged logging at a registered archeological site near the Sunshine Coast community of Sechelt, believed to be an ancient shíshálh Nation burial site with about 200 cairns, or stone mounds.

Robert Joe, a former shíshálh Nation band councillor, and his partner discovered felled trees around the site during a visit last week. Joe filed a complaint with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations on Thursday.

He occasionally visits the site on the east side of Sechelt Inlet to show summer camp students the burial mounds, and teach them about the nation's culture and history, but Joe hadn't paid a visit in about a year and a half.

Last Monday he and his partner went to do some reconnaissance, before bringing some Capilano University students to the site.

"Lo and behold when we got up there, everything was logged over and the skidder marks — the skidder machine — skidded over everything, cut down all the trees all the way around," said Joe.

"It's complete devastation, and somebody's got to be responsible for this," he said.

The area in question is private property adjacent to shíshálh Nation land around the Sechelt Indian Band Salmon Hatchery. Joe said he knew there were plans to log there, but he understood there would be a buffer zone around the cairns.

Some of the little mounds of moss-covered stones could be easy to miss, but according to Joe, it's a registered archeological site, DJRW-37, after exploration confirmed the burial site in 2015.

The 200 cairns in a roughly two-hectare area are about 2,000 years old, much older than the big cedar trees that have been cut down around them.

A spokesperson with the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations did not confirm the logged area is in fact the registered archeological site, but he said the province is actively investigating the alleged incident.

"Archaeological sites in B.C. are protected by the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA), whether they are known or unknown, or located on private or Crown land," said the spokesperson in a written statement. "Archaeological sites cannot be damaged or altered without a permit issued by the Archaeology Branch."

Chief Henry Warren Paull with shíshálh Nation said he had heard about the alleged logging, but added that the nation wouldn't comment on the situation.

For Joe, the logged area has a profoundly spiritual significance — it gave him a feeling of belonging.

"It's heartbreaking," he said of the logging. "This is our history, and this is our culture."

"It's a complete desecration of a sacred site of our First Nation," said Joe.

A discovery at another shíshálh burial site further up the inlet led to an exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History in 2017.

That site, believed to be about 4,000 years old, contained human remains along with hundreds of thousands of stone and shell disc beads.