Band battles for access to ancestral remains

After a year-and-a-half of waiting to repatriate their ancestors members of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band (LSIB) have had enough.

A Day of Action is planned for August 31 at the corner of Upper Bench Road and Daly Drive near Cawston.

“We’re done. We’re upset with whole process that’s happened so far. We’re just going to demonstrate that,” LSIB Chief Keith Crow said.

On February 29, 2016 the ancestral remains of at least seven people were unearthed in an orchard when a crew was doing work to flatten a small hill so apple trees could be planted.

Crow said despite the LSIB’s efforts they have not obtained permission or permits to access the property to repatriate their ancestors.

“We’ve been waiting for a year-and-a-half. We’re done asking so we’re holding the day of action on the 31st,” he said. “Everyone is upset. This has not been a good thing. We’ve felt led on the whole time.”

Crow cited issues with communication with the property owner’s lawyer and the province’s decision not to force a permit as two of the main reasons for the delay.

The band wishes to repatriate the remains on the property and fence off the area so they will not be disturbed again.

Bones that surfaced when initially disturbed were collected and are being kept safe by the LSIB.

Crow said all the earth that was moved needs to be sifted for bone fragments so they can all be repatriated.

Technicians from the Okanagan Nation have come forward offering to help with the work when the permits are in place.

“We’re hoping to have this done fairly quickly when this starts. We need to do this before the snow flies. We just need access to the property,” he said.

Crow estimated the size of the fenced property would be about three-metres by seven-metres.

During the recent commemorative Oka Run two weeks ago participants ran by the site.

“That was very emotional for all of us. Here we are 27 years later and we’re dealing with the same things,” he said.

Crow said the LSIB has records the site was listed with the archeology branch dating back to 1952. He worries about how many other sites that have been submitted are not in the system.

“We did what we were supposed to do to protect our ancestors. I wonder how many times we are going to have to go through this. There has to be a better way that doesn’t cause so much harm,” he said.

Crow has requested a meeting to speak with BC Premier John Horgan early in September.

The Day of Action starts at 10 a.m. at the corner of Upper Bench Road and Daly Drive. Everyone is welcome.