|31 March 2008
Conflict alert for ancient British Columbian sites
Without a radical shift in thinking about first nations archaeology, British Columbia (Canada) is in danger of losing what is left of its ancient heritage and sparking heated conflict with natives, according to PhD candidate Michael Klassen. Virtually all of the first nations' 9,000-year-old footprint in southwestern B.C. has been eradicated by development, Klassen said. Most of it has been destroyed lot by lot, because each property taken alone may not register as scientifically significant. "But when you look at it cumulatively, it is nearly all being wiped out," Klassen said.
Tens of thousands of archaeological sites in Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria and the Gulf Islands have already been destroyed by urban growth and waterfront development. An entire industry of archaeological consulting has grown up in B.C., mainly focussed on examining sites in the process of being destroyed by backhoes. But only in the past two years has the provincial government begun to negotiate management agreements with first nations that allow them some control over development on significant heritage sites. "As first nations grow in authority and experience, they are going to start using the growing legal arsenal at their disposal to fight to loss of their heritage," Klassen said.
Klassen and McMaster University PhD candidate Rudy Reimer are presenting a workshop to the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver this week detailing emerging trends in practical archaeology here in B.C. In working with first nations, Klassen and Reimer came to realize that natives were intensely interested in their own heritage and that their way of thinking about the meaning of places and things is dramatically different from the legislative and legal framework that governs archaeology. Reimer, who is from the Squamish nation, says spiritual places such as rock outcroppings, caves and even the North Shore's distinctive Lions mountain peaks have meaning for first nations people but aren't recognized as important because there are "no bones or arrowheads."
British Columbians share the first nations' enthusiasm for the province's archaeological heritage, which includes sites around Burrard Inlet and on the Fraser River that predate Egypt's pryamids by thousands of years: "We don't have to do things differently because of the threat of court battles," Klassen said. "We can do it because we all agree it's the right thing to do."
Source: The Vancouver Sun (26 March 2008)
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