By Roy L Hales
Chief Don Tom, of Tsartlip First Nations issued a Stop Work Order for the construction on Grace Islet. A segment of screen fencing, below the high water mark, was removed so that he could land on the First Nations burial islet. The group accompanying him waited for two RCMP constables, who were given a copy of the order. Chief Tom also fastened a copy to the fence above the high water mark.
“The stop work order not only cites the infractions, building over our sacred sites, but also provincial laws and, we believe, infractions in the permits themselves,” said Chief Tom.
If Grace Islet were a European burial ground, rather than First Nations, no one would be allowed to build a house there. However British Columbian law does not give the same protection to graves from the pre-colonial era.
Steve Thomson, the provincial Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, refuses to intervene because the islets’s owner has the correct permits.
The stop work order appears to put this controversy where it belongs. The Crown recognizes Aboriginal Title. The First Nations were not consulted, and did not consent, when their burial islet was sold in 1990. They received no benefit from the transaction. (The present owner, Barry Slawsky, will not even let them visit their ancestor’s graves.) Was the transaction even legal? Who really owns Grace Islet?
Chief Don Tom promised the protesters will be taking further actions in the days and weeks to follow.