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Respect & Reconciliation: First Nation Heritage Conservation


September 12, 2005

 

Honourable Gordon Campbell

Premier of British Columbia

PO Box 9041 STN PROV GOVT
Victoria BC  V8W 9E1

Fax: 250 387-0087

RE:  Respect and Reconciliation of First Nations' Interests in Heritage Conservation in British Columbia

 

Dear Premier Campbell,

 

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) fully supports the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG) position that British Columbia reform the provincial administration of archaeological heritage from the ‘Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Arts’ into the more appropriate policy guidance of the ‘Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation’.

 

The Denial of our First Nations’ Rights to Protect our History, Heritage and Culture

 

Furthermore, the UBCIC supports the statement of the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group in its letter of August 17th whereas:

 

“destruction of our First Nations’ ancient burial sites by unregulated land-use development is the source of increasing social, political and legal conflict between our First Nations, government, and private property owners in British Columbia. The desecration of our Coast Salish peoples’ ancestral villages and cemeteries, such as Poets Cove on South Pender Island and Walker Hook on Salt Spring Island, well-illustrate this injustice that our First Nations’ people face today in British Columbia. Such injustice results in not only the irreplaceable loss of our national heritage and creates economic uncertainty for the province, but threatens our mutual efforts to reconcile our First Nations’ relations in British Columbian society.  We note that several major land-use conflicts between First Nations and Government in Canada over the last two decades, such as Oka and Ipperwash, have often involved attempts by aboriginal people to protect their ancient burial grounds and heritage sites.”

 

Building a greater shared decision-making role for First Nations to address our Aboriginal Title and Rights in the protection and management of our archaeological heritage, is a key opportunity for your government to meaningfully reconcile with First Nations in British Columbia. 

 

Over 99% of the over 23,000 recorded archaeological sites on the provincial heritage site registry are of First Nations.  These archaeological sites represent the legacy of our First Nations’ human history in British Columbia – the built monuments of our Ancestors’ villages, cemeteries, places of harvest and belongings on our lands since time immemorial.  

 

Yet, in the 21st Century, First Nations continue to have no meaningful decision-making role in the provincial management of our own archaeological heritage.  Heritage conservation in British Columbia has historically developed in government practice from its roots in social science that is independent of any First Nation involvement.  The purpose of the provincial Heritage Conservation Act [R.S.B.C. 1996, Chapter 187] is to “encourage and facilitate the protection and conservation of heritage properties” on behalf of all British Columbians.  Appropriating our First Nations’ archaeological heritage as a ‘scientific resource’ that belongs to our collective human history, British Columbia has never afforded any shared decision-making role in heritage conservation to our First Nations - the direct descendants and inheritors of this cultural legacy.  To this day, the provincial Heritage Conservation Act does not specifically address Aboriginal Title or Rights.

 

“Questions concerning the infringement of aboriginal rights and title are beyond the jurisdiction of the HCA, which is concerned with the protection and conservation of heritage property in British Columbia. To that end, when our office receives an application for permission to conduct a heritage inspection, our role is to determine whether such a permit can be granted in light of the purpose of the HCA ’ (Letter from Mr. Ray Kenny, Manager, Archaeology Branch, Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, June 6, 2005).

 

In accordance with this interpreted limited provincial mandate, the Archaeology Branch does not currently consider permit applications as ‘referrals’ and practices a policy of ‘exemption’ from its Crown duty to adhere to British Columbia’s Provincial Guidelines for First Nation Consultation (2002).   

 

Since 2001, heritage conservation has declined as a focus of political investment to an all-time provincial low. The provincial government dismantled the BC Heritage Trust, privatized the Royal BC Museum as a Crown Corporation, reorganized the Archaeology Branch and made financial cutbacks to its administration. In the last term, only four project officers at the Archaeology Branch were in charge of regulating the management of over 23, 000 archaeological sites. Egregiously, British Columbia prepared to amend the Heritage Conservation Act [R.S.B.C. 1996, Chapter 187] to “balance the rights of private property owners”, not to ultimately address the rights of First Nations.

 

The UBCIC fully agrees with the Hul’qumin’num Treaty Group that the recent reorganization of the Archaeology Branch to the “Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Arts” as yet another demotion for First Nations heritage conservation in the long-term trend of declining political priority in British Columbia.  

 

The UBCIC does not appreciate that the provincial government prioritizes the protection of our First Nation’s ancestral heritage sites, burial grounds and cultural property beneath issues of ‘sport’, ‘tourism’ and ‘art’.  Nor does this Ministry reorganization demonstrate any evidence of political commitment to begin a new relationship and reconcile our First Nations’ serious conflicts with provincial heritage management. 

 

It is clear that British Columbia continues to operate in a state of denial of First Nations’ Aboriginal Title and Rights with respect to our heritage, history and culture.  It is time to reconcile with First Nations in British Columbia.  

 

Building a New Relationship of Respect and Cooperative Heritage Management

 

The UBCIC agrees that the ‘Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation’ is the more appropriate venue to cooperatively manage our First Nation heritage and build a new relationship with British Columbia.

 

Key disputes for British Columbia to negotiate with First Nations involve issues of ownership, jurisdiction, management and access to archaeological heritage sites, ancient human remains and artifacts.  British Columbia and First Nations need to create greater certainty over the long-term protection of our archaeological heritage threatened by increasing land and resources development. If allowed to remain unresolved, it can be expected that conflict over our archaeological heritage will only result in the continuing destruction of our diminishing national heritage, exponential economic delays and costs, litigation and the further decline in our relationship with British Columbian society. 

 

To begin to reduce these conflicts, we advise that the Archaeology Branch must be fully integrated into British Columbia’s process of constructing a new relationship with First Nations based on meaningful consultation and accommodation of our Aboriginal Title and Rights.  Importantly, the Archaeology Branch must begin to consult our First Nations following the Provincial Guidelines for First Nation Consultation (2002) in the interim and in the near-future, the principles of the New Relationship.  Legislative changes to the Heritage Conservation Act will be required to address our Aboriginal Title and Rights.  To achieve these goals, the Archaeology Branch urgently requires access to the new policy development mandate, funding and negotiation staff at the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.

 

In fully integrating the Archaeology Branch into the new Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, British Columbia would be signifying a political will to meaningfully reconcile First Nations role in provincial heritage management and begin to take our Aboriginal Title and Rights to protect our heritage in a serious manner.

 

CONCLUSION

 

By moving the Archaeology Branch to the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, we believe British Columbia has an important window of opportunity to effect dramatic, positive change to reverse the decline in priority for heritage conservation over the last 25 years and benefit our First Nation relations in British Columbia.

 

We thank you again for your commitment to working with our First Nations and we look forward to continue to build a new relationship in British Columbia.

 

Respectfully,

 

 

Chief Stewart Phillip

President

 

 

Chief Robert Shintah

Vice-President

 

 

Chief Mike Retasket
Secretary-Treasurer

 

CC:
UBCIC Chiefs Council
First Nation Summit Task Group (604-926-9923)
Honourable Olga Ilich, Ministry of Tourism, Sports and Arts (250 953-4250)
Honourable Tom Christenson, Ministry for Aboriginal Reconciliation (250-356-2213)
Robert Morales, Robert Morales, Chief Negotiator - Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (250-245-4668)
Justine Batten, Director, Archaeology Branch (250-952-4188)

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