Former Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Steven Point signs a letter to the provincial government asking for action at the Lightning Rock burial site in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

VIDEO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Dozens of First Nations leaders gather on grassy plateau to call on action by provincial government

The direction from those gathered at Lightning Rock in Abbotsford on Friday morning to the provincial government was loud and clear – let’s get this moving.

Dozens of indigenous leaders, local politicians and the current owners of the site all spoke to the public and assembled media at the gathering, which called on the provincial government to begin action to save one of Western Canada’s most important First Nations burial sites.

The Lightning Rock site, located at the end of Atkinson Road in East Abbotsford, is believed to be the burial site of hundreds if not thousands of Stó:lō peoples. Lighnting Rock is a significant cultural landscape and place of spiritual and historical significance to the Semá:th First Nation and Stó:lō/Coast Salish peoples.

Many of those buried were victims of the small pox epidemics, with historians estimating that 80 to 90 per cent of the local First Nations people perishing.

The site was then purchased by Cold Water Ranch, who intended to develop the property for an industrial project until learning during a public hearing that the land, which had a clean heritage evaluation, was actually a sacred Sto:Lo site and mass burial ground. Since 2012 the company has been negotiating with the provincial government to come to some sort of solution.

Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation explained that the site is extremely significant, and it’s been a long and frustrating journey trying to ensure the site is saved.

“The question was brought to the cabinet in Victoria recently and the ministers more or less denied our request for the province to step in and do the right thing,” he said. “We know our peoples never would have given up title to these areas. We will keep on pursuing this and will have this place returned to us. We want it to be our own national historic park or heritage site and put it back into our control. We will preserve it and educate the people to our stories and histories.”

Leaders also challenged Premier John Horgan to come to the site to speak to them about its significance.

John Glazema, who spoke on behalf of the ranch, said the original vision for the site was an agricultural mall, but after he and his group became aware of its significance to local First Nations they chose to halt work.

“We bought the land and attempted to do everything right,” he said. “And we received approval from the province to proceed but we discovered that their process neglects First Nations criteria. We want to respect our neighbours and do what’s right, but the province has done nothing the last four years. Two years ago we had a letter of understanding that this site would be paid back to us but we’re still fighting for our money back. We’re still paying huge interest costs and the taxpayers of B.C. should not be responsible for this. I encourage the province to take ownership and find a solution. Right now it’s not good for anyone.”

RELATED: Agreement made to preserve Sumas burial site in Abbotsford

RELATED: Council denies agri-centre project

Darryl Plecas, the MLA for Abbotsford South and the current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of B.C., said it’s time the government acted and not just spoke to solve this issue.

“This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate that it’s not just words,” he said. “I question why should we even have to be here – this is a no-brainer. If we’re truly committed to reconciliation then this is very simply the right thing to do. I will be moving heaven and Earth to make this get to a yes.”

Dr. David Schaepe, the director and senior archaeologist of the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, said the site should be recognized and pointed out that similar sites in Chilliwack and France have more easily got the nod from the government.

“We have identified an area of tremendous cultural value as a cemetery and a cultural landscape with a transformation feautre [Lightning Rock],” he said. “These findings exceed the recognition of provincial legislation and the gaps in legislation and policy need to be addressed. We’ve calling on the province to address those gaps to help achieve reconciliation.”

Schaepe added that the site has been recognized by archaeology associations from all over the world, and the province should move forward on the project.

The gathering concluded with a dozen First Nations leaders signing a letter intending to re-iterate to the government their wishes for the future of the site.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Bloodhounds join the search for missing Chilliwack woman

Petsearchers Canada arrive in town Monday afternoon to help out

‘No little nook and cranny that’s too small’ in search for Chilliwack woman, say RCMP

Residents urged by police to assist in search for Grace Baranyk by checking property thoroughly

Search continues for missing elderly woman in Chilliwack

RCMP, Chilliwack Search and Rescue and community members combing area for Grace Baranyk

Big Chill a hot event in Langley

Flight Museum holds “ask the pilot panel” and demos flights for young pilots over the weekend

VIDEO: Hiker airlifted from Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park Sunday

Park east of Chilliwack popular with tourist and B.C. residents who walk up to the falls

‘Bad choices make good stories’: Margaret Trudeau brings her show to Just for Laughs

Trudeau says over the decades she has been suicidal, manic, depressed

UPDATE: Youth seen with gun at Nanaimo mall, suspect now in custody

Woodgrove Centre shut down during police incident

B.C. man dies from rabies after contact with Vancouver Island bat

Last known case of human rabies in B.C. was 16 years ago

Crown recommends up to two-year jail term for former Bountiful leader

Crown says sentence range should be 18 months to two years for Bountiful child removal case

B.C.-wide police efforts identify Vancouver Island robbery suspect

Warrant issued for arrest of North Vancouver man for TD Bank robbery

VIDEO: Wolf spotted swimming ashore on northern Vancouver Island

Island wolf population estimated at under 150 in 2008, says VI-Wilds

Diversity a Canadian strength, Trudeau says of Trump tweets at congresswomen

Trudeau avoided using Trump’s name when he was asked about the president’s Twitter comments

B.C. couple bring son home from Nigeria after long adoption delay

Kim and Clark Moran of Abbotsford spent almost a year waiting to finalize adoption of Ayo, 3

Garneau ‘disappointed’ in airlines’ move against new passenger bill of rights

New rules codified compensation for lost luggage, overbooked flights

Most Read