Historic Agreement to Protect 45 Sacred Sites on Stó:lō Territory, a First in British Columbia

This is a historic agreement to protect 45 sacred Stó:lō sites on Crown land within the territory of the Stó:lō Nation that marks a first in British Columbia.

Sacred, spiritual and ceremonial sites of the Stó:lō people, such as processing sites or burial grounds, have now gained legal recognition and protection under the Heritage Conservation Act.

Aitchlitz Chief Angie Bailey, spokesperson for the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (STSA), called the deal a “big step forward” in gaining recognition of their rights as cultural stewards.

“For a very long time, the leaders of our organization, representing the 17 members of the Stó:lō First Nation of the STSA, have worked to strengthen our decision-making authority over activities that affect our lands and resources.

“Special attention has been given to the protection of our sacred heritage sites, including our places of transformation, our ancestral cemeteries and our places of cultural practice. These are some of our most sensitive and important places in S’ólh Téméxw (our world), which historically have been poorly respected.

“This agreement marks an achievement in our efforts to achieve greater recognition of our Indigenous culture and heritage, as well as our Indigenous rights as stewards.

The pilot agreement between the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance and the province is the result of a government-to-government approach.

“Our seniors have worked for generations in this effort,” Chief Bailey said. “This is a great step forward for the conservation of First Nations heritage in British Columbia.

The agreement outlines the consensus-building and shared decision-making approach taken by the STSA and the provincial representatives.

“Protecting sacred Indigenous heritage sites is essential to the spiritual well-being of Indigenous communities and is an important part of our journey of reconciliation,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “First Nations have long called for a more direct role in heritage conservation as part of heritage site management reform in British Columbia. Through this pilot project, we are solidifying our commitment to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples to protect these important sites.

The agreement provides ‘automatic’ protection for artifacts, items, materials or other physical evidence of human habitation prior to 1846, as well as burial sites of archaeological or historical value, Indigenous rock art and heritage shipwrecks .

Skowkale Chief Mark Point, a member of the STSA board of directors, stressed that the agreement provides “recognition of our Indigenous worldview and Indigenous landscape of sacred sites”.

Leaders have been pushing for this protection for years.

“We have suffered serious losses to our heritage because of the development of our lands over which we have had no say,” Point said. “Now things are changing for the better.”

Under the act, the province can enter into an agreement with a First Nation regarding the conservation and protection of its cultural heritage sites and objects. These agreements, like the pilot agreement with the STSA, can ensure the protection of heritage sites of spiritual, ceremonial or cultural value, which otherwise would not be automatically protected under the law. Examples include areas of sacred spiritual practice or ceremonial effects.

Through government-to-government negotiations, the two parties reached this agreement to protect sites identified by the STSA as having spiritual or cultural significance. An implementation framework was co-developed as part of the agreement.

The pilot agreement will be in effect for one year, after which the parties will evaluate the results of the agreement and recommend that it be modified, extended or allowed to close. This agreement will provide important lessons for potential future agreements with other First Nations and will inform the recently launched Heritage Conservation Act transformation project.

“Developing the Heritage Conservation Act Agreement has been a tremendously collaborative undertaking,” said David Schaepe, Director of the Stó:lō Center for Research and Resource Management and Chief Negotiator for the STSA. . “We have opened a new chapter in expanding the scope of recognition and protection of Indigenous heritage in British Columbia. I think this is a good precedent that others can work with across the province and more broadly.

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