The Penticton Indian Band got some unusual news this week when FortisBC notified them that their work crews had discovered ancestral remains while working on upgrades to a substation.
The discovery was made by contractors working on the Huth Avenue substation immediately adjacent to the PIB Reserve No.1 and appears to be on an old village site.
“We knew that there were village sites around, but we were surprised to find it there like that,” said Chief Jonathan Kruger of the Penticton Indian Band, who admits to being a little cautious about how to proceed.
“I have never had to deal with this in my political life,” said Kruger, who has also been checking with colleagues in the Okanagan Nation Alliance to see if policies are in place for such events.
“I was asking them about how far along we are in our policies for dealing with artifacts,” said Kruger, adding that development began on such a policy years ago, but it has been tabled.
“This is the reality that we live in today, with more and more people coming in our territory and doing these developments,” he said. “I am really thankful that Fortis is being really respectful in this whole situation and I think we are going to find a respectful way of dealing with it in our community. We’re going to do things in a good way.”
The PIB and FortisBC are collaborating to ensure the proper and respectful protection and disposition of those remains. The power utility has also hired the services of an archaeologist to determine the extent and scope of this site.
“Fortis is proud to work with the PIB to protect this historic and culturally significant discovery,” said Doyle Sam, vice-president of engineering and operations.
“Bottom line is I want the remains to stay on that site. I think we should put in a memorial site with some kind of a plaque,” said Kruger. “Everything happens for a reason. Our ancestors came forward in this way for a reason and we have to figure that out.”
The Huth Avenue substation has been in place for some time, according to Kruger, who said FortisBC representatives told him the site has had a utility on it since 1945.
“I think they actually found this by fluke. Some of the soil has been moved — we’re going to be working with Fortis and with our band members to sift through all of that material,” said Kruger. “We’re going to collect everything that we possibly can.”
It is unusual to find burials in such close proximity to a village site, but Kruger said they may date from one of the epidemics that swept through the Okanagan prior to contact with the settlers, wiping out a huge portion of the population.
It’s hard to say. From stories I heard a long time ago, there were two waves of epidemics in our community where a high portion of our population was decimated,” he said, adding that the survivors would have had difficulty dealing with the number of victims.
“This is a very significant find for the community. We were aware of the old village site; however, it’s exciting to find physical evidence of our former life here in Penticton. More importantly, it adds evidence to our Douglas claim, which encompasses the whole of Penticton and both sides of Okanagan and Skaha Lake,” said Kruger.
According to Kruger, the land adjacent to that area, across the channel from the main reserve, are part of Reserve No. 1 though the province negotiated an access agreement for the Green Mountain Road bridge, and the discovery of the remains may spur discussion and resolution of related issues.
“Those lands are still part of the Penticton Indian Band. We need to settle those deals,“ he said.
“If anything, it is going to get us starting to talk about those issues with the city and the province in the future. It’s going to help us deal with the responsibilities of our ancestors in a new world, with our community, with our elders, with our Okanagan Nation. We need to set policies.”