Stop the Desecration of Grace Islet

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PMThere will be yet another demonstration in the waters around Grace Islet this morning. The Chiefs, elders and paddlers of six First Nations will be joining with concerned Salt Spring Island Residents to call on Minister Steve Thomson to stop the desecration of Grace Islet.

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Grace Islet (Click on image to expand) – taken from video made by Bill Warriner of Salt Spring Live

“We’re going to paddle out there again and let them know what we really feel,” said Chief Vern Jack of the Tseycum First Nation.

Chief Don Tom, Tsartlip First Nation; Chief Seymour, Cowichan Tribes; Chief Earl Jack, Penelakut Tribe and Chief Rick Thomas, Lyackson First Nation will be there.

So will Salt Spring Islanders for Justice and Reconciliation (SSIJAR) and Salt Spring Residents for Responsible Land Use (SSRRLU),

They will meet at Centennial Park, next to the harbour in downtown Ganges, at 8a.m.

A large dugout canoe from Quw’utsun (Cowichan) will lead the procession of kayaks, canoes, rowboats and sailboats out.

That’s a sacred island, where our ancestors were put,” Chief Jack said.

Grace Islet is believed to have been a First Nations burial place for a thousand years. A Penelakut elder said Grace Islet has never been used for anything else.

According to Chief Jack, no one asked the First Nations about this before they zoned Grace Islet residential. Nor were First Nations the recipients of any money when Alberta businessman Barry Slawsky purchased the islet in 1990.

“We didn’t sell it and we’re the first owners,” he insisted.

Two months ago, British Columbia’s Archaeology Branch gave Slawsky permission to build his waterfront vacation home there. To preserve the ancient burial cairns, he was supposed to put his house on stilts.

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Burial cairn RF – 3, in plywood box, appears to be inside the foundation wall (Click on image to expand)

Slawsky poured a cement foundation wall instead.

Minister Thomson justifies his inaction by saying Slawsky’s permits are in order.

“What they’ve done with this development is take our spirit away,” said Chief Vern Jack. “Why do we have to fight to protect it? It’s just common sense. This is something that no First Nations would ever do to a White Person’s Grave.”

This is not the first desecration of First Nations sites.

Chief Jack mentioned the desecrations of 1888 and 1889 when, “this guy was paid to dig up our ancestors. He got paid to do it and the government paid him without consulting the First Nations.”

An elder mentioned more recent desecrations at Poets Cove, Craig Bay,  Dunsmuir Island and Coffin Point.

This would not have happened to White burial grounds, which are protected by the Cemeteries Act. First Nations graves from before colonial times are treated differently.

“They say its protected, but its not protected. They only protect the White people’s graves, not First Nations,” Chief Jack said.

Last Friday the Chiefs of the six First Nations met with Craig Sutherland, Assistant Deputy Minister, Coast Division, from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Justine Batten of the Archaeology Branch

There will be another meeting, with the Minister and Barry Slawsky, at some time in the future.

One of the First Nations elders said development should stop and Grace Islet be declared a Culturally Sensitive Area. The government needs to make a commitment to consult with First Nations so that desecrations like this do not continue. She would be very pleased if that is how this situation ends.

(Image at top of page  taken from video made by Bill Warriner of Salt Spring Live)

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