First Nations leaders from across B.C. joined with the Sumas First Nation and a developer to urge the province to grant recognition of a Sumas burial site on land owned by a developer.
The cultural significance of the Sumas Mountain location – understood to be an ancestral cemetery associated with a devastating 1782 smallpox epidemic – caused the City of Abbotsford to reject a commercial development proposed there by Corpus Management Group. But without provincial recognition of the site under the Heritage Conservation Act, there’s no recourse for Corpus to receive compensation for the land that’s now known to be undevelopable.
On Friday, Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver gathered with some of B.C.’s top aboriginal leaders at the site, with all urging provincial action. In attendance were Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, Robert Phillips of the First Nations Leadership Council, Ray Harris of the First Nations Summit and Chief David Jimmie of the Stó:lō Nation.
Many of the leaders noted that it was unusual for a dispute about a heritage site to have aboriginal groups and a non-aboriginal commercial developer aligned with the same goal. In previous issues about similar heritage claims elsewhere in the province, it’s been common for the two parties to have opposing aims.
Last November, the city denied Corpus’ $40-million-plus proposal to build a business development for agricultural equipment dealers at the site on Atkinson Road, citing the area’s cultural significance and concerns about providing services to the rural lot.
The Sumas First Nation and Corpus petitioned the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to designate a portion of the land as a Provincial Heritage Site under the Heritage Conservation Act in December of 2014. Since then, they haven’t heard any decision – and both parties say they feel ignored. They hope bringing in provincial-level aboriginal voices, and asking the B.C. ombudsperson to intervene, will get them results.