By Roy L Hales
Barry Slawsky’s lawyer filed a notice of discontinuance from his legal suit against the defenders of Grace Islet. It is clear the brief occupation of the Islet cannot be dismissed as a simple case of trespass. First Nations leaders view this situation as blatant racism on the part of the BC Government, which has refused to protect one of their ancestral burial islets because Slawsky had a building permit.
The racist nature of BC’s cemetery laws have been exposed through what has transpired at Grace Islet. Slawsky would not have been issued a building permit if the graves were European. First Nations graves predating the colonial era fall under a different Act.
All things considered, the cartoon at the top of this page seems like an appropriate depiction of how First Nations perceive the inactions of Ms Clark’s Government.
In reality, the Liberals inherited a policy that the province has been following for generations.
Slawsky dropped his suit the day after the Union of BC Indian Chiefs announced they had passed a resolution in support of the defenders of Grace Islet Burial site.
“We’re here to serve notice on the Clark Government once again that cultural genocide in this day and age is unacceptable,” said Grand Chief Phillip Stewart said at the demonstration where he announced this.
Slawsky’s suit appears to have been in response to the September 17th stop work order that Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation posted on Grace Islet. It was signed by the leaders of four First Nations governments. They laid out their case clearly:
- This land is Coast Salish Territory
- This Islet at Shiya’hwt is a known Coast Islet Cemetery, or shmuq’wela
- This Coast Salish Cemetary is xe’xe (sacred, dangerous)
- This private residential development has violated Coast Salish customary laws to protect our Ancestors’ Cemeteries against desecration and to protect the dead from disturbance.
- This private residential development has denied our Coast Salish First Nations rights to access our Coast Salish First nations Cemetary. It has prohibited its use for spiritual or ritual ceremony, and excluded community members with the inherited family rights and knowledge to care for the dead and their cemeteries.
- Coast Salish First Nations do not consent to this development in Coast Salish Territory.
In his notice of discontinuance letter of Slawsky’s lawyer stated, “The last incident of trespassing that I am aware of occurred on September 17, 2014. SInce that time, however, there has been no further direct interference or trespasses. Mr Slawsky has no interest in escalataing tensions or claiming compensation from any protestors and it appears that at the present time an interlocutory injunction is not required.”
One of the defendants, Joe Akerman, responded, “I’m not surprised to hear of the decision by Barry Slawsky through his lawyer John Alexander to repeal his frivolous lawsuit against myself, Chiefs, local politicians and concerned Salt Spring citizens. The desecration at Grace Islet over the last several years has been well documented and opposed every step of the way by the protectors of Grace Islet. Government and Barry Slawksy do not want to defend themselves in Court and expose the despicable decisions that will implicate them in the desecration of a First Nations Cemetery.”
Another of the defendants was local MLA Gary Holman, who explained his actions to reporters during a brief occupation of the Islet in August:
“I am sorry that it came to this today. All else has failed: in the Legislature, trying to speak to the Minister offline, laying charges with the RCMP.
“The Law has been broken here. We should be clear about this. The previous permit, before it was removed; this islet was cleared without proper monitoring by an archaeologist; by an excavator. The law was broken. So the question I have for the RCMP is where the hell are you?”
“The law was broken two years ago, when the islet was cleared by an excavator. The law continues to be broken with these (First Nations burial ) cairns being encased in a foundation wall and cairns being inside the foundation. Where the hell is the law?”
The defenders of Grace Islet were not intimidated by Slawsky’s trespass suit. They were expected to respond with a countersuit that goes to the heart of the matter. The desecration of Grace Islet appears to be a violation of Aboriginal title and, in the case of one of the First Nations involved, may encroach upon Douglas Treaty rights. At the time of this writing, the counter-suit has not been served.
Premier Christy Clark’s government has talked a great deal about establishing a relationship of mutual trust and understanding with First Nations. They need to recognize Grace Islet as the burial grounds that it is and take the necessary actions to preserve it. Barry Slawsky should be adequately compensated for the loss of his property. The First Nations people deserve an official apology.