On May 30th, traffic came to a standstill over the Arthur Laing Bridge as members of the Musqueam Nation and their supporters took to its decks for a protest during the heavy morning commute. The North end of the bridge, which connects South Vancouver to Richmond, sits right above an ancient Musqueam burial site and village called ‘c̓əsnaʔəm’, also known as the Marpole Midden, which the Musqueam have been fighting to protect from developers and the BC Liberal government. The protest, which was announced the evening before in order to alert commuters of the bridge closure, sent a strong message to the BC Liberals that the Musqueam are not going to sit back and watch their sacred site be desecrated, no matter how much the government tries to stall the issue.
As I wrote in the article ‘c̓əsnaʔəm: Musqueam Nation Stands Up For Ancient Village’ which appeared in Volume 7, Issue 2 of Fire This Time ( http://firethistime.net/FTTV7N2web.html), the Musqueam had proposed a land swap with the developer, at no cost to taxpayers, and planned to turn the site in to an interpretive educational park recognizing the rich Musqueam history and the ancient village that dates back to the time of the Egyptian pyramids. However, this needed approval from the BC government, and while the developer agreed to the swap, they stated that they would continue with the excavation and construction if this deal was not imminently reached. As the BC legislature was going into its summer break and the BC Liberal government showed no sign of coming to the table, the Musqueam increased the pressure on the government to act.
On May 29, the Musqueam organized a day of action. Along with supporters, they began by taking to the streets outside the Mountain View cemetery in Vancouver to show that the public should be just as outraged by desecration of this ancient burial ground as they would if it concerned their own ancestors in the city cemetery. The Musqueam then took their protest to BC Premier Christy Clark’s office, and finally to the downtown Vancouver Art Gallery.
While the following action on the Arthur Laing Bridge brought the issue into the spotlight for many people across the province, the BC Legislature predictably took its break for the summer and the provincial government made no action to resolve the issue. Today, the Musqueam remain on the site around the clock to ensure that construction doesn’t pick up again and to show that they do not give up so easily when their land, history and culture are under attack.
Also among the many supporters of the Musqueam in their struggle to protect c̓əsnaʔəm is the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC). Fire This Time had a chance to speak with its president, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, to gain his perspective on this growing issue.
Introduction to interview:
Support for the Musqueam continues to grow. As many First Nations from around the province, as well as grassroots, Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists have been demonstrating their solidarity in the fight to protect the site, more people are recognizing what is at stake in this struggle . Recently, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union currently fighting the BC government for fair treatment of its 41,000 members, publicly threw its support behind the Musqueam. In a press statement released on June 1st, BCTF President Susan Lambert stated that, “[Marpole Midden’s] presence stands as yet another reminder that this land was occupied long before colonization. The archaeological site will also provide invaluable educational opportunities for future students and scholars.”
Fire This Time: Can you tell us about the support that the Musqueam have received from other Indigenous people in the province?
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: As time goes on with respect to growing awareness of the desecration of the burial site at Marpole Midden in Southern Vancouver, the support has increased greatly for the Musqueam First Nation. As more and more First Nations across the country become aware of this terrible unjust situation of deliberate desecration of their sacred burial sites by developers, with the province standing idly by on the sidelines, more and more First Nations are communicating with the Musqueam, expressing their complete solidarity and support. Certainly throughout the province of British Columbia, Musqueam enjoys broad based support from all of the First Nations, and a growing number of human rights groups, multi-faith groups, etc.
FTT: What about the lack of response from the BC Liberal government? Why do you think they are doing this?
Chief Phillip: Well, the BC Liberal government seems to be in a state of confusion on a whole range of issues and the Premier does not have readily available to her the guidance of her caucus and cabinet colleagues, so she is relying on a very tight-knit group of outsiders – advisors from the Harper camp. And quite frankly, she is so paralyzed by fear of making political mistakes that she is choosing to do nothing in regards to a lot of important issues. Certainly the Musqueam, and the desecration of their sacred burial sites, is one of those issues that she is doing nothing about but twiddling her thumbs and hoping that the whole matter will simply disappear.
FTT: What are the prospects for the Musqueam and supporters in struggling over this issue?
Chief Phillip: Well, the Musqueam have had a very calculated and measured approach towards negotiating a resolution. They have certainly been innovative and have offered to engage in negotiations vis-a-vis a land swap. They have offered solutions to this situation and yet they require the full active participation of the province for these negotiations to have a successful conclusion. And therein lies the problem with the Clark government simply refusing to engage the issue and engaging in a lot of public statements that are completely misleading the general public – statements coming out of the provincial government to the effect that there is progress being made and that there is an effort being made to work towards a solution. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are just simply refusing to engage the issue and tensions are escalating.
Just the other day, the Musqueam people led a march onto the Arthur Laing Bridge, completely shut it down, and really snarled traffic for the better part of the morning yesterday, which greatly interfered with traffic to the airport. We understand there were cancellations of flights and certainly delayed flights. These types of activities will continue. It is clearly a human rights issue that the province of British Columbia is refusing to take responsibility for and political activities are obviously escalating with respect to the growing frustrations attached to this issue.
FTT: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us.
Chief Phillip: Thank you.
Back to Article Listing