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Destructive Archaeology Needed to Save Sacred Site

Update

Truce Declared (from the Victoria Times Colonist)
More conflicts over native sites are inevitable (Vancouver Sun)

Original Post

Steven Hume writes today in the Vancouver Sun about the destruction of a cave near Victoria, BC. The cave is considered a sacred site by the Tsartlip and Songhees First Nations (Coast Salish) and it has been under threat by developers for several months. The water in the cave is used for ritual bathing and cleansing. The water was drained as part of archaeological assessments of the site.

In the process of researching his story, Hume turned to the provincial government for answers about why water had been drained from the cave. Here are his (unbelievable) findings:

I called Stan Hagen’s department — he’s the cabinet minister responsible for heritage — to ask the rationale. I was told that the site the Songhees and the Tsartlip said was sacred had to be destroyed to determine whether it deserved to be protected.

This is not a joke. It is not satire. It is not the script for a Monty Python skit. It’s your provincial government in action.

In fairness, Justine Batten, director of the province’s archeology branch, told me that a geologist concluded the cave was unstable and thus the archeology firm hired by the developer to do an assessment of the site couldn’t work safely within the cave without taking off the roof.

I asked if, as the Songhees and Tsartlip ventured, the practice of destroying an archeological site in order to evaluate it didn’t seem inherently contradictory.

Well, archeology and sacredness are not analogous, Batten replied.

Vaughn Palmer has more information about the plans of the developer and the protests of the First Nations.

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