FTT: Given that the BC government has been saying that it is making progress with the Musqueam over the land issue and over, what was the reason for organizing the demonstration on August 10?
Cecilia Point: Well, they are trying to sidestep the most important issue which is protection of all First Nations burial sites. They still continue to issue site alteration permits, archaeological investigative permits on top of burial sites. The argument they give in this case is that it is private land, so they are saying that the developer followed all the rules, etc. We’re saying that their hands are not tied because it is private land. They can simply move the developer somewhere else. And as you know, in the beginning, we had talked about a land swap, but when I thought about it some more, I wondered why did Musqueam have to be involved in that. British Columbia is only 6 percent privately owned. So there is so much land. If this ever happens, there is so much land in BC that is Crown land, like the rest of it is Crown land, they can just move him somewhere else when this happens. And I think a similar thing happened in Caledonia in Ontario when there was a possible grave site desecration pending. The province of Ontario, in that case, purchased the site and then moved the developer somewhere else. So, to me, the Province doesn’t want to start setting a precedent. I’ve heard legal people tell me they are trying to avoid the ‘open the floodgates’ rule and they are concerned that so many First Nations will then start to step up and say, ‘Well, protect ours, protect ours, protect ours,’ because since I’ve been here, of course, I have met many First Nations who are in a similar situation or have had that happen to them already. So they are trying to sidestep a part of the Heritage Act that protects Aboriginal Title and heritage sites because they have never used it before.
FTT: What is the best way that people in Vancouver, across Canada, and internationally can help support the Musqueam in this struggle?
Cecilia Point:Well, of course they can continue to come and stand with us because I think it is important to have a show of people at the site. But, they do need to petition their governments. And I say governments in plural meaning cities, provinces and federally. This site is recognized as a National Historic Site federally. And the federal government has not weighed in at all because they say that they have transferred all of the Historic Site powers to the provinces. So in this case the permits are coming from the Ministry of Forests and Lands so that is the one that we have been hammering away at the most because we want them to rescind the permits. Because the other thing they are doing, the permits were supposed to expire on June 29 or June 30. I remember our council coming down here and saying “You can probably go home because the permits are going to expire and you don’t have to stay here and protect the site because they won’t be allowed to dig.” But then the Province renewed them and extended the dates for two more weeks and then two more weeks and then two more weeks again. But the first time they did it, Musqueam’s legal team said, “Please don’t do that.” Like we were in the middle of negotiations to have them rescinded and they kept extending them. So as it turned out, they were extending them at the request of the developer. And last week, Mary Polak (Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation), the Province, had held a press conference. I believe she held that press conference to make us look like we didn’t know what was going on. In fact, she said that to us right in front of the reporters because there was a group from the community that went there. She said, “Well, why don’t we have a little conversation after because I think your administration isn’t giving you the whole story.” She actually said that in front of the cameras. So we said, “Ok,” and met with her afterwards and she didn’t tell us anything else that she told the reporters there. So we just started asking her questions. We said, “Why do you keep extending these permits?” And she said, “As long as they extend them the developer promises he won’t do any work. Even though he has a permit to work she says he promises he won’t do any work. Our legal team again says, “There is no such agreement in place and if there is even a verbal one that doesn’t hold water.” But he said, “There isn’t even a verbal one, even if they said that to her.” There certainly is no written agreement that says they won’t do any work. So that was the first lie she told us. The second lie she told us was, she told the press that they were forwarding us $12 million. I know it’s complicated, but we talked about some other pieces of land that the Province was working with us on that they were going to transfer to us. So, nobody ever knew how much value that land was, and that was something our team was trying to keep secret because since she’s now told the public how much money it’s going to be the developer wants it all. As you know we’re in negotiations to purchase this property. We’re willing to pay for just the lots, just the dirt and this developer came to the table and asked us for covering his losses, covering his construction costs so far and covering even possible profit losses. I’m saying that that belongs to the Province. Like, if we want to buy this piece of land then we’ll buy this piece of land, but that other stuff, that has nothing to do with us. The Province is the one that made that mistake, so they need to go after the Province for that money.
FTT: Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with us tonight.
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