Miranda Dick of Secwepemc nation at site of ancestral remains.
The province signed an agreement with First Nations to resume four-laning the Trans-Canada Highway, but a group of Secwepemc say B.C. has no treaty or purchase of land to do so.
Which is why the group — which at times stands 75 strong — held a sacred-fire ceremony for four days at the ancestral remains site at the heart of the controversy.
If the Secwepemc have their way, the province will look at other means to improve safety along the stretch of blacktop leading to Hoffman’s Bluff, said Miranda Dick, a Secwepemc First Nation member.
As far as Dick and other Secwepemc are concerned, the burial site should be left alone.
“We still hold the land within our own territory,” she said Wednesday. “The province has no treaty or purchase over our territory.”
The ceremony concludes Thursday. Whether individual First Nations want to continue the vigil is up to them, said Dick.
The Daily News wasn’t allowed to the view the fire or speak to participants at the location, where three posts marked the resting places of ancestral remains.
Dick said First Nations have prayed at the fire and offered food and tobacco in honour of the dead.
The province announced earlier this year that an accommodation agreement had been reached with Neskonlith Indian Band that allows for removal of the remains.
Dick said one ancestor has been removed, another is untouched and a third has been buried deeper. This was done without the permission of the Secwepemc people.
She and others involved in the ceremony believe a referendum should have been held to gauge the will of the community.
The Ministry of Transportation is aware of the ceremony, and crews took their work elsewhere along the 7.5 kilometre-long worksite so the Secwepemc could perform it, said Mike Lorimer, a regional director for the ministry.
He acknowledged the location and remains are important to First Nations. Lorimer said that’s why the province took the time to work out a fair agreement with local bands.
“We definitely understand the heritage and cultural significance of that area. There’s no question it’s a high-value area to First Nations,” he said.
Dick said there are other things the province can do to make the highway safer, and suggested lowering the speed limit.
“Why do we need a four-lane highway here?” she asked.
Lorimer said this is an important project for all of British Columbia, and four-laning will forge ahead once the ceremony is over.
Dick said the Secwepemc will monitor the work as it continues. Lorimer doesn’t anticipate any conflict.
Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson could not be reached for comment.
The province negotiated for four years with the Neskonlith Indian Band regarding remains found in 2009. The skeletal remains were first said to be 2,500 years old but later carbon dating found them to be about 350 years old.
Secwepemc say Trans-Canada Highway expansion threatens ancestral sites
Natives from the Interior, near Kamloops and Chase, are protesting a Trans-Canada Highway expansion they say cuts through Secwepemc ancient village sites.
They have lighted a ceremonial four-day “sacred fire” on a site where ancestral remains were found in 2009. The fire was lit Monday and will remain until Thursday.
The Ministry of Transportation plans to widen 7.5 km of the highway near the community of Pritchard to four lanes, calling it a “major and much-anticipated safety and mobility improvement that’s very important to all motorists.”
“The ministry appreciates the First Nations heritage and cultural significance of this area. With this in mind, the ministry has been working in cooperation with local First Nations to ensure the design of highway four-laning project respects and preserves these heritage and cultural values,” spokesman Robert Adam stated in an email response to questions from The Vancouver Sun.
He said crews began construction of a retaining wall to protect the site of the ancestral remains found in 2009, but at the request of local First Nations, the work was halted to allow for the four-day ceremony. Work will resume following the ceremony, he stated.
He added the ministry requires that all excavation sites on the project have monitors from the local First Nations communities on site to watch for the presence of artifacts or remains.