Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band stands beside the fence outside the property where ancestral remains were uncovered in 2016. The LSIB and the province are still in negotiations over title rights to the site after two years. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)

No end in sight for Cawston burial ground negotiations

Negotiations focused on title rights to ancestral remains site uncovered in 2016

Much like how discussions continue between the Wet’suwet’en and the Canadian government, Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band says they continue to work with authorities about a controversial burial ground in Cawston.

“We’re all under negotiations in some way or form,” said Crow. “We’re still trying to deal with the ancestral remains site in Cawston here, that was uncovered about four years ago.”

The Review previously reported that in 2016 a contractor for the Celentano Vineyard was levelling a hill in order for more apple trees to be planted when the remains were discovered. Following a court order in 2017, the band was able to access the site and work with provincial archaeologists to repatriate the remains at the site.

Since then, the Lower Similkameen Indian Band has been trying to gain further access in order to continue safeguarding the known remains, and any not yet discovered. In 2016, the band issued a release noting that the site had been reported as burial grounds to the provincial heritage branch twice, in 1952 and 1972, but it was never mapped by the branch or registered at the land title office.

READ MORE: Work begins to repatriate ancestral remains

“We still don’t have settlement to that. Yes, we did the work and put them to rest, but we still don’t have access to that land,” said Crow. “We want to put more protections in place. So yes, we’re trying to enforce our title rights as well.

“Negotiations are ongoing on that property.”

In 2018, negotiations began between the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the province with the aim of securing the title rights to the site to secure and protect it.

READ MORE: Ancestral remains recovery slow going near Cawston

“We’re in our second year now, I don’t think it will be wrapped up any time soon,” said Crow. “I’d like it to be wrapped up right now, but it won’t be.”

Prior to the remains being laid to rest in 2017, the number of remains at the site rose from five after the initial discovery to 10 at the current estimate, including at least two discoveries of childrens remains.

Negotiations between the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the provincial government are proceeding separately from the owners of the orchard where the site is located.

In September 2019, the Celentanos filed a lawsuit against the province in B.C. Supreme Court. The lawsuit states natural resource officers along with an archaeologist entered their property by force in September 2017.

READ MORE: Similkameen orchardists file lawsuit over ancestral remains site

The lawsuit is ongoing. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

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