Members of an urban Vancouver aboriginal band say they're stepping up their protest to protect a mound of ancient refuse left behind from an aboriginal village nearly 3,000 years ago that, despite its designation as a national heritage site, is at risk of being built over – again.
Members of the Musqueam First Nation say they will block traffic to protest against construction on the Marpole Midden, even though B.C.'s aboriginal relations minister says a cash-for-land deal is close.
Mary Polak said Thursday the money offered to the Musqueam should be more than enough for the band to purchase the midden land from the owner who wants to develop the property.
In June, the province paid the Musqueam $4.8-million in compensation for one of three pieces of land that are part of major projects such as a new transit line.
Polak says the government will offer another $12-million for the remaining two pieces of land, and the money should exceed the midden owner's asking price.
But the band, whose members have been protesting against construction on the site ever since human remains were unearthed earlier this year, says the province's cash offer is money owed to the first nation anyway.
"That's our money, that's for other deals that have nothing to do with this, and we are choosing to redirect that money to buy back that land [on Marpole Midden]," band member Rhiannon Bennett told reporters on Thursday.
"That is not money they are providing for us out of the goodness of their heart so we can buy the land back."
The band had originally wanted to do a land swap to protect the Marpole Midden, but the deal was not signed off.
The band also says it wants construction work on the site to stop completely.
The Musqueam do not own the land in question, but the midden was designated as a national historic site in 1933.
Located at the north arm of the Fraser River, the midden – an archaeological term for the deposits that are left behind by people – contains the remains of a Coast Salish winter village as well as various artifacts from early inhabitants.
It was also, at one point, a small pox burial ground, according to Susan Rowley, curator of the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. Though named a national historic site, the title appears to offer no protection against development.
"For a very long time, archaeologists have talked about Marpole as a poster child for an abused archaeological site because of the fact that houses were built there, roads were run through the site in the '20s and '30s, with no care for anything," she said in an interview.
The owner of the midden lands and developer Century Holdings intend to build a five-storey commercial and residential complex. Construction was halted briefly in January when the remains of two adults, two babies and the partial skeleton of another baby were found.
Since then, Polak says the permit allowing the developer to dig in the area where the remains were found has been terminated under the provincial Heritage Conservation Act.
But a second operating permit for a different area of the site has been extended on a bi-weekly basis while negotiations with the Musqueam band are ongoing.
Cecilia Point, a spokeswoman with the Musqueam band, said she believes the permit extensions are a way for the province to appease the developer under the guise of facilitating negotiations.
"I think this is also a tactic that the province and developer often use. They think they can wear you out," she said in an interview.
"But they're not wearing us out, we have our warrior faces on and we're hitting the ground again [Friday]."
Polak says since the land is privately owned and protected by private property laws, the province cannot rescind the operating permit.
"The complicating factor here is this isn't Crown land, this is private property," she said.
"If you were developing a garage on your property and found remains, you have the right to expect that the law will unfold as it's already laid out."