Sometimes archaeological finds do not “belong in a museum!” and nowhere is this more true than at the Musqueam village of c’əsnaʔəm (otherwise known as the Marpole Midden). A few weeks ago in Vancouver, some 300 band members and supporters came out for a peaceful protest against the condo development on c’əsnaʔəm blocking the Arthur Laing Bridge for a few hours.
It’s funny, I don’t remember Indy’s digs being halted because he was ripping up burials for a residential expansion on the ancestral lands of a traditionally marginalized people. Unfortunately that is the state of archaeology in Canada today. You see, every province is in charge of managing their own ‘heritage’, ‘tourism’, ‘sport’ and other closely related domains. All provinces and territories have some form of legislation that says: “Before you develop here (condos, malls, houses) you have to do some kind of heritage/archaeological assessment” (kind of like an environmental assessment but more ambiguous and less restrictive).
So when the City of Vancouver and Province of British Columbia offered up part of the village of c’əsnaʔəm to developers, Archaeological Resource Management companies (many of them branches of various engineering firms) bid for the golden ticket – the chance to dig c’əsnaʔəm.
But this shit’s been dug before. As one of the biggest sites of its kind on the Northwest Coast, by the 1890s hundred’s of Musqueam ancestral burials from c’əsnaʔəm were excavated and sold to museums around the world. In the 1920′s and 30′s over 700 burials were uncovered by what would be Museum Vancouver and many bodies were discarded for lack of ‘space’ to house them. In 1933, c’əsnaʔəm was made a National Historic Site, but since then has continued to be desecrated, marred and destroyed.
So why do they need to do more archaeology? What can Indiana Jones tell us about this site that hasn’t already been told? As educated, curious and honorable citizens we might think it’s the right thing to do – to unearth some of the mysteries of the last 4,000 years here in Lower Mainland. But it’s not. By digging this site (when Musqueam elders and band members have made it clear to LET THEIR ANCESTORS BE) archaeologists are continuing the colonial legacy of:
- Cultural resource extraction and consumption (taking a non-renewable resource that does not belong to us).
- Exploiting sensitive sacred material and people (further alienating the indigenous people from their land)
- Appropriating and amassing culture that is not ours (creating and re-creating heritage that does not belong to us)
- Testing and devaluing First Nation sovereignty over their land
Furthermore, allowing archaeologists to probe c’əsnaʔəm is the first step developers can check off their list. Once developers receive clearance from the archaeology company (in the form of a report that is sanctioned by the Provincial government) they are that much closer to putting condos on the land.
Indiana Jones has gone from a sexy surreptitious hero to a fat, money-hungry colonialist clucking orders at students digging holes in the ground at minimum wage.
Last December the BC government gave developers and archaeologists a permit to dig and within a month three burials were uncovered and one was exhumed. Protests ensued, a permanent vigil was installed at c’əsnaʔəm and today hundreds of Musqueam mourn the desecration of their ancestors, the defilement of their land and the colonial abuse by the BC government.
Talks between the Musqueam Nation, the City of Vancouver and developers are ongoing but the BC government has ignored requests to speak and will not remove the archaeology permit.
As an archaeologist I can say this is NOT why our discipline exists. Extracting and appropriating cultural resources in the name of western ideals is something I am ashamed to say is part of my disciplines legacy – as an archaeologist or even more, just as a person willing to see the ‘other side’ of history, I ask that you support the Musqueam cause.
By signing the petition below or writing to Christie Clark and the BC government you’re telling Indigenous people all over Canada and around the world that building over sacred burial grounds and extracting their ancestral remains is NOT O.K. No more development on c’əsnaʔəm, no more colonialism.
As an individual you can join over 3,000 people who have called on the Province to resolve this issue: http://www.petitiononlinecanada.com/petition/stop-the-immediate-destruction-of-indigenous-burial-sites/943
You or your organization can write to Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Parks Canada description of Marpole Midden National Historic Site of Canada:http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=15609
Many links to news stories and updates on protest activities:https://www.facebook.com/ProtectTheVillageAndMiddenSiteOfMarpoleVillage and https://twitter.com/cusnaum
15 minute documentary: Musqueam Through Time
xʷməθkʷəy’əm (Musqueam) – People of the River Grass.