OIB, B.C. reach agreement on Haynes burial site

By on May 28, 2014
Mario Hall sifts carefully through sand and dirt excavated at Haynes Point in the hopes of finding artifacts. An ancient burial site was discovered recently during digging for washrooms. Hall is a member of Osoyoos Indian Band and is working under lead archeologist Meghan Fisher. (Richard McGuire photo)

Mario Hall sifts carefully through sand and dirt excavated at Haynes Point in the hopes of finding artifacts. An ancient burial site was discovered recently during digging for washrooms. Hall is a member of Osoyoos Indian Band and is working under lead archeologist Meghan Fisher. (Richard McGuire photo)

The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has agreed to form a partnership agreement with the provincial government to handle the discovery of a First Nation burial ground recently discovered inside Haynes Point Provincial Park.

Under the agreement, BC Parks and the OIB will work in partnership to ensure the long-term protection and management of the OIB cultural heritage sites and values in the park, which falls within the band’s traditional territory.

The provincial government issued a press release late last week revealing details about the signed agreement.

Three weeks ago, senior management with the OIB was informed about a section of Haynes Point Provincial Park being the possible site of an ancient burial ground.

Archaeological experts were brought in and confirmed that some of the bones and artifacts discovered on the site dated back hundreds of years.

In the short-term, the parties are working collaboratively to respectfully manage and protect the OIB burial site that was disturbed by excavation activities on April 29.

Clarence Louie, Chief of the OIB, said he’s pleased both sides were able to come to an agreement on this sensitive issue.

It is believed the remains are more than 1,100 years old and date back to a period before indigenous people had any contact with an outside culture.

While he’s not sure why the remains were buried here, Louie said they obviously hold great cultural and religious significance to local First Nations people.

Louie said he has no doubt that most white people would want the band to finish digging up the remains and bury them elsewhere on OIB reserve land.

Because Haynes Point Provincial Park has become so popular with local campers and tourists – and is one of the most sought-after campgrounds in the entire South Okanagan during the busy tourist season – the plan is to let people continue to camp at Haynes Point this summer and all reservations will be honoured, said Louie.

The OIB will continue to work with BC Parks to resolve the issue, he said.

He suspects there are other burial sites they don’t know about.

Louie said it upsets him that the area has long been recognized as Haynes Point, when it should be called “s-ooyous” or the First Nation word for this area.

Toilet facilities at the burial site have been permanently decommissioned and planning is underway to ensure the respectful and culturally appropriate reburial of the OIB ancestral remains in their original resting place.

“This is an opportunity for the province to work in partnership

with the Osoyoos Indian Band to rectify this unfortunate

occurrence,” said Environment Minister Mary Polak. “Together we can move forward in a way that honours and respects this culturally important area. The province applauds the OIB for showing consideration to park visitors.”

The parties are making shared decisions about any other maintenance work needed in the park for the remainder of the camping season, as well as establishing protocols for park management activities in other parks within the OIB’s traditional territory.

“Haynes Point Provincial Park is part of s-ooyous,” said Chief Clarence Louie. “The area is a historically and culturally

significant place to the Osoyoos Indian Band. I would never expect to see a toilet or campground built over non-native gravesites.

“That is common sense. Our gravesites are not open to negotiation. I am pleased the province is committed to working with the Osoyoos Indian Band to honour and respect our ancestor’s gravesite. We are confident that this new agreement with the province will secure the long-term protection of our cultural heritage sites and values at s-ooyous.”

The parties recognize that Haynes Point Provincial Park is a popular destination for park visitors, and that campsites and reservations are in high demand.

BC Parks and the OIB share the objective of ensuring park visitors carry on with their plans to visit the park for the duration of the park’s peak camping season.

The agreement between the OIB and the province will see Haynes Point Provincial Park closed to camping and day-use activities effective October 1,until further notice.

This will allow for a full archaeological inventory prior to winter and for the province and the OIB to work in partnership on decisions regarding how best to manage the park to protect important cultural heritage sites and values going forward.

KEITH LACEY

Osoyoos Times

 

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