Fire This Time sat down with Cecilia Point, spokesperson from the Musqueam Band, for an interview on the ongoing struggle of the Musqueam people over c̓əsnaʔəm (commonly known as Marpole Midden). The Musqueam are working to halt the construction of a 5-story residential and commercial project on c̓əsnaʔəm, a 4,000 year old ancient Musqueam burial site. For more information and analysis on this struggle, please refer to “c̓əsnaʔəm: Musqueam Nation Stands up for Ancient Village” in Fire This Time Volume 7 Issue 2, online at http://firethistime.net/FTTV7N2web.html
The Musqueam are maintaining a 24 hour vigil at the burial site, at 1300-block South-West Marine Drive in Vancouver. Supporters are welcome to visit.
Fire This Time: Thank you, Cecilia, for taking the time to speak with us. This interview is a great opportunity for Fire This Time newspaper, as FTT is very much a supporter of the Musqueam people’s struggle.
First of all, can you tell us about the importance of this site to the Musqueam people?
Cecilia Point: Well, it is designated as a national historic site, because of the artifacts and the history here. It is a buried village that has been in our oral history for years. My great grand-father used to live in this area and has told me forever about this site and the people that live here. We have a legend of a man named Copper Man who was buried with a copper mask and that’s about 4,000 years old as it turns out. So it’s been handed down through our oral history, so it’s a rich history. But also just the fact that our relatives are indeed buried here, so we want to protect them; you know we protect our ancestors; we want them to return to the earth and stay in their final resting place. We don’t want them to be moved or chopped up or – you know, it’s important to us.
FTT: What are the demands of the Musqueam now in the struggle?
Point: Well, we want the developer to stop developing this land and to get off of it, basically, and the quickest way we knew how to make that happen was to offer them land in exchange. The province [the B.C. Provincial Government] has said that they would either give us this piece of land that they have for us in Delta, or cash, in exchange for this burial site.
FTT: What actions have the Musqueam taken to protect this site?
Point: Well initially, in March of this year we physically blockaded the site, which got the developers attention because he could not get on there to do his work and his workers could not get on this site. So after three days of us locking them out, they came to the bargaining table. After that we had a cooling off period for three weeks and they came back because they got tired of waiting. The last party we were waiting for was the province, to get approvals for the deal we had all struck. So the province did not do their approval, and the developer went back to work.
Because he went back and unearthed two infants, our elders instructed us to get down here right away, so we did, and we are not blockading it now, but we are keeping a 24 hour vigil. So we are always here watching, and on the day that he did try to get back to work on his own, the owner of the property got on a bulldozer and started digging in the earth right near where the infants are lying; I can’t say buried because they aren’t buried anymore. And so we all physically went on the site. The police came and our Chief Ernie Campbell came down and basically said to him ‘you really need to stop digging in that dirt because I won’t be able to keep these people off the site.’ So I guess he knows that if he does any invasive action we’ll go on. He hasn’t really been back since then and neither have any of the workers.
The government still didn’t come back to the table after almost a month. So we took action by going to the Vancouver Cemetery, and put up a mock development sign to make it look like we were going to dig there, to make politicians know what it would feel like to have someone suggest they’re going to dig up your ancestors and build condos on this lovely site right here. Or move the bodies or discard them, which has happened to us in the past as well. So I mean we took some pictures – we didn’t get a lot of media attention.
We also went to the Premier’s office that day, just to deliver some information and the lady who answered the door – whoever she was – said we were not allowed to come in, and she said you need a letter or some kind of permission to come to the Premier’s office. That just upset our people so they all just marched onto the street and blockaded the road in front of the Premier’s office for a couple of hours, creating a little bit of traffic chaos – it’s not a very busy place.
Then from there we went to Robson Square in Vancouver, with the intent of just handing out information and getting the word out, but our community was still pretty upset, so they just took it upon themselves to start drumming and singing. They formed a drum circle in the middle of the street and blocked Robson Street for a couple of hours. We sort of thought we would get some attention from the government after all of those actions, but we got none. We got very little media attention and in fact it even got worse with the government, because they pulled the facilitator who they had sent to speak with our Chief and Council. So we were left with nothing!
The final action we took was – you know not that any of us were comfortable with it – but we blockaded the Arthur Laing Bridge, and stopped traffic from going to the airport and commuters from going downtown for almost three hours yesterday. And that garnered a lot of attention. I would have to say when that happened I’m pretty sure that Minister Polak took over the file while we were on the bridge.
FTT: Since the last action of blockading the bridge, has there been any response at all from the BC Liberal Government and what’s the status of trying to discuss with them?
Point: Right, well only what we’ve heard in the media, because they still have not contacted our administration directly. In the media prior to yesterday, Minister Polak, who is the Minister of Aboriginal Relations, kept saying that this was not her department’s file, that this file belonged to the Minister of Lands and Forests, and they were the ones that issued the archeological permits. So I’m not really sure how one government department can blame another government department and not even back each other up.
There is a third government department which is the Ministry of Transportation, so they are the ones who are holding this piece of land for us, so the three departments need to work together, which I understand is complicated! But, you know instead they’re all kind of pointing fingers at each other and from there the Ministry even pointed the finger at the city saying, well the city is the one who is ultimately going to allow development there.
You know maybe they are, but the province is the one who is ultimately allowing them to unearth our bodies. So we’d like that to stop first. Personally I’m not really clear who is going to be blamed in the end, you know, because as you can see there is so much involved. But yesterday was the very first time that the Minister of Aboriginal Relations did indeed say that her department would be responsible – for something.
FTT: This is an issue that many Indigenous people have supported. What is the best way that non-Indigenous people can support you in this struggle to defend the site?
Point: They can speak to their government as well. Because I think this issue here, being right in the middle of a major city, is getting a lot of attention, more than what happens all over the province; there are First Nations burial sites desecrated all over the province. But they are done in isolation in little towns with little reserves where the two never really meet each other and might not even talk to each other. So if something on a tiny reserve with a hundred people, you know, is damaged, nobody in BC every really hears about it, never mind in Canada. So the public hasn’t really stood up and taken notice, but I think they will take notice now.
What we want people to do is to write to their politicians and tell them to stop desecrating our gravesites, and in this particular case we want them to write to the Minister of Lands and tell them to rescind these development permits. Finally, if none of that works, we want people to say: well will you at least accept our land swap, like immediately, and get off the property?!
FTT: Thank you very much for your interview.
Cecilia Point: Thank you.
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