Indian band thwarts Vancouver ground-breaking

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Protesters gather at Southwest Marine Drive siteCut

Stanley Tromp
Van. Courier

Protesters from the Musqueam Indian Band stopped construction workers from starting excavation of land they say is home to their ancient burial ground.

Workers and property owner Gary Hackett were turned away when they showed up at 1338 Southwest Marine Dr. at 7:30 a.m. Monday. The land between the Metro Theatre and The Motel nightclub is being developed for a large condominium project.

While high winds blew out the power to stores and traffic lights in south Vancouver, about 40 protesters held up signs and beat drums, while many drivers honked their horns in support. Musqueam spokesperson Aaron Wilson said the protest was necessary after talks with the developer broke down. Protesters vowed to stay until the development plan by Magnum Projects for “HQ concrete homes” is stopped.

To help find a solution to the dispute, the B.C. government has scheduled meetings this week with the band, the city and the developer.

“Our chief has been working directly with Mayor Gregor Robertson and city manager Penny Ballem,” Musqueam band manager Ken McGregor told the Courier. “They have been very sympathetic, but getting agreement with three levels of government is complex and doesn’t move as quickly as some developers might like. Everybody is in a bit of a legal box.”

In 2006, Hackett received a heritage permit to start the B.C. government’s archaeological impact assessment on the property to prepare for development of six lots. In December 2008 the province sent the draft management plan to the Musqueam Band for comment but did not receive any response from the Musqueam until the current permit application was referred to it, said Brennan Clarke, spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry

of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

Then in December 2011, the province issued two permits to Lan-Pro Holdings (the developer) and Stantec (the archaeology consultant) to allow for development of the lots. “The Archaeology Branch is satisfied that the proposed site management plan balances the condition of the site (heavily disturbed) with the interests of the private land owner,” Clarke wrote in a ministry email to media.

The Musqueam dispute the province’s claim. “Work was stopped in the area near where the intact remains were discovered,” Clarke added in the email. “The remains have not been removed. The site where the remains were found will not be disturbed until an archaeologist has completed intensive testing the vicinity to determine if there are additional remains in the area.”

McGregor said the city told the band that once the provincial archeology permit is issued, the city doesn’t have the legal right to stand in the way of development. “Everybody seems to want to do the right thing but they say no one has the legal authority to do anything.”

Unlike the land under the Fraser Arms Hotel, the Musqueam band does not officially own the land at 1338 Southwest Marine Dr., but still claims title to it. McGregor added that the protest is not being organized from the band office, although it endorses its members’ efforts. “Most people wouldn’t want their gravesites desecrated outside their churches. This site is older than the Egyptian pyramids,” he said.

The developers and city staff could not be reached for comment by deadline.

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