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Decades after road was built over burial site, province pays compensation to Tseycum

Nov 17 2012
Tseycum elders Fred Charlie and Roger Charlie bless a newly-raised refurbished totem pole on Friday at the Tseycum reserve. 

Tseycum elders Fred Charlie and Roger Charlie bless a newly-raised refurbished totem pole on Friday at the Tseycum reserve.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford, Victoria Times Colonist , Nov. 16, 2012

A decades-old dispute between a Saanich Peninsula First Nation and the provincial government took a tentative step towards reconciliation Friday.

As Tseycum First Nation celebrated the unveiling of a newly refurbished totem pole on West Saanich Road, Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong offered regrets for the hurt caused by construction of the road over historical burial sites.

“We can’t change the past, but we need to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation,” said Chong, who, in addition to acknowledging the hurt caused to Tseycum members, offered concrete recognition in the form of $200,000.

About $150,000 will be used for the Journey Home cemetery, where the remains of 55 ancestors — some dating back 2,000 years — were reburied in 2008 after being brought home from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Tseycum have also had to rebury the remains of ancestors disturbed during work on West Saanich Road, although others remain under the road.

“We understand the importance of Tseycum’s efforts to both repatriate their ancestors and bury their people with dignity,” Chong said at the ceremony overlooking Patricia Bay, where geese gathered in a semi-circle beneath the re-carved totem pole apparently listening to the speeches.

“This agreement is an opportunity to recognize the living history of the Tseycum First Nation on the Saanich peninsula and to build a future based on respect and recognition,” Chong said.

In addition to simmering anger over the remains under the road, which, in the past, has led to blockades and threats of lawsuits, the community has also become increasingly unhappy about speeding drivers.

Those concerns came to a head last winter when a driver knocked down the totem pole, which looks out to sea, acting as the community’s guardian.

Even though the small truck was seen speeding off, the driver was never caught and the community was hurt by the loss of the pole, said Chief Tanya Jones.

The re-raising of the pole represents a new beginning, Jones said.

“It will be a day in history for Tseycum First Nation,” she said.

The remaining $50,000 from the province will be used to help further a plan for road improvements and to assist with reconciliation, she said.

The pole, carved by community member James Jimmy, under the tutelage of master carver Charles Elliott, depicts a frog and an orca.

“The frog is on the bottom as our connection to this earth,” Elliott said.

“In our culture the beginning of every year is when the frogs begin to sing.”

The orca on the top of the pole acknowledges that killer whales rule the sea, Elliott said.

It was a difficult decision whether the pole should be re-carved and raised again as, in Coast Salish culture, if poles fall, they are left on the ground to rot.

“But this is an accident that happened and I believe this is the right thing to do,” Elliott said.

Earlier Friday, the province handed Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation $500,000 from the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund to help with construction of the Haa-ak-suuk Creek hydropower project in the Kennedy River watershed.

Government also agreed to speed up transfer of a 12.1 hectare parcel of land in Tofino to Tla-o-qui-aht as part of an incremental treaty agreement.

The land, near Tla-o-qui-aht’s Best Western Tin-Wis Resort, will provide jobs and economic opportunities through tourism development.

Under the ITA, the First Nation was given another $200,000 Friday for capacity building — the last installment of a $600,000 payment.

“The announcements today are an economic springboard for our nation,” said Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Councillor Moses Martin.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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