Musqueam First Nation says Marpole Midden site will be preserved following land deal

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      Cecilia Point is breathing a sigh of relief following news of a deal reached between the Musqueam Indian Band and Century Group.

      The First Nation and developer announced the successful sale of a two-acre portion of land known as the Marpole Midden on Tuesday (October 1). The deal follows more than 18 months of negotiations.

      Point was among the Musqueam community members who held vigil for 200 days last year after intact human remains were found during archaeological work on the site that was slated for a condo development.

      Now that the sale has been finalized, the Musqueam say the ancient burial site and village can be preserved.

      “I’m happy and relieved, and I’m glad it’s over, and I look forward to the next steps,” Point told the Straight by phone.

      “I know that ourselves, and actually the community members of Marpole that came by to visit us, are all very enthused about having a beautiful green space there.”

      Musqueam band councillor Wade Grant told the Straight that a meeting will be held in the coming weeks to gather input from community members on ways to preserve the site, including the possibility of turning the area into a park.

      “I think the most important thing is that we protect it, and we want people to know, not only our community members, but we want all people to know that that place is now protected, and we can share that with them,” he said in a phone interview.

      The councillor described the site near the north end of the Arthur Laing Bridge as the Musqueam’s “last remaining connection” to how the community’s ancestors lived.

      “The city of Vancouver has grown up around us—a lot of our traditional sites, our village sites and historic sites have been developed and destroyed in the past,” said Grant.

      “Luckily that site itself still remains intact underneath the ground…it’s our way of being able to connect to who we are for thousands of years in history and share that with our community members and our children in the future. If we had destroyed that, we lose a connection to who we are.”

      Grant also hailed the land deal as a “shining example” of cooperation between First Nations government and private enterprise.

      The councillor noted that some community members were disappointed that the Musqueam had to purchase the land once occupied by its traditional village.

      “It’s always frustrating when our traditional territory, and especially a traditional village site like that, [we] have to purchase with money that could go to social services or other services for our community members,” he said. “So when we do that it is frustrating and disappointing, however the situation as it is now, that was the most expeditious way that we could get the land back into our hands.”

      Human remains and cultural artifacts were recovered during archeological excavations of the Marpole Midden. The land was declared a national historic site in 1933, and includes one of the largest pre-contact middens on the West Coast of Canada.

      Comments

      8 Comments

      nick

      Oct 2, 2013 at 5:18pm

      Funny how they arent concerned about the Fraser Arms' parking lot being right on top of a midden. Oh, thats right, the hotel is owned and run by natives.

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      Wade

      Oct 2, 2013 at 9:52pm

      We bought the Fraser Arms for the exact same reason we are buying these lands, to protect the Midden
      . Since the Fraser Arms purchase, no work has ever been done below the surface and we will not do,anything,below ground at the Fraser Arms ir these properties.

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      Alan Layton

      Oct 3, 2013 at 8:29am

      Midden = Garbage Pit. It's where the natives threw all of their food scraps and shells. But still it's a historic site and I'm really happy for the Musqueam to be able to salvage something of their long history. A park would be good in that area.

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      Nick

      Oct 3, 2013 at 11:34am

      Protecting a midden with pavement?

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      JB

      Oct 4, 2013 at 8:56am

      Congratulations to the Musqueam for successfully protecting the midden and a direct connection to their ancestors. How a site declared nationally historic 80 years ago, and obviously part of the Musqueam's traditional lands, could fall under the ownership of a condo developer in the first place is beyond me. This is a prime example of how non-violent direct action can lead to justice. I do hope that public monies assisted the Musqueam in their purchase, as that land should never have left their hands in the first place.

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      JB

      Oct 4, 2013 at 9:02am

      This was not a garbage pit at all, more like a village and a cemetary, although settlers and 'scientists' have certainly treated it disrespectfully over the years. According to the Musqueam band website at: www.musqueam.bc.ca/c%CC%93%C9%99sna%CA%94%C9%99m
      In the 1920/30s, local ethnographer Charles Hill-Tout and the local history association (forerunner of the Museum of Vancouver) undertook extensive excavations and was amazed at the antiquity and extent of the site. They retained self-taught “archaeologist” Herman Leisk to remove cultural deposits including human skeletal remains for the museum’s collections. According to his own report, he encountered over 700 human burials. Some were discarded in the trash because of lack of space at the museum. Skeletal remains were also sent to the Royal College of Surgeons in London England (where they were later destroyed in the Blitz) and to other museums in North America. In 1933 the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada declared the site as a Canadian National Historic Site. A cairn was placed in a nearby park, marking “the site of one of the largest prehistoric middens on the Pacific Coast of Canada. It originally covered an area of about 4½ acres, with an average depth of 5 feet and a maximum depth of 15 feet.”

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      Alan Layton

      Oct 5, 2013 at 9:30am

      JB - the definition of midden is basically the accumulation of debris from long-term human habitation, which in this case is primarily the discarded shells from shellfish that had been consumed, as well as animal bones, cooking stones, discarded tools etc etc. The fact that human bones were found there just means that the midden was used for some burials and that the villages were built on top of, or very near them. They are found in many places in the world and were created from many different cultures. In the case of west coast First Nations, the middens are often the only visible artefacts of the culture to survive our climate. This is just Archaeology 101.

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      CJ

      Nov 17, 2013 at 8:06pm

      Middens are not simply "garbage heaps" - as with many things, context is key. In the northwest coast, shell middens accumulate in areas of long-standing habitation. They are evidence of human activity. They are not necessarily culturally analogous to a dump in the sense that we think of them in the present day. The way we live today is vastly different from the days of the Marpole culture. By likening the Marpole midden to a garbage dump, we are looking at the past as if it could be compared to the way we live today and it simply can not.

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