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S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance heritage sites receive new legal protections

Press Release

Aug. 30, 2022

CHILLIWACK – Sacred, spiritual and ceremonial heritage sites on Crown lands within Stó:lō Nation territory now have legal recognition and protection through a landmark pilot agreement.

The agreement, which is the first of its kind in B.C., was collaboratively developed by the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (the STSA) and the provincial government under the Heritage Conservation Act. It provides protection for 45 heritage sites and outlines a consensus-seeking, shared decision-making process between the STSA and the Province for ongoing heritage-site management.

“Protection of sacred Indigenous heritage sites is critical to the spiritual well-being of Indigenous communities and an important part of our reconciliation journey,” said Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests. “First Nations have long called for a more direct role in heritage conservation as part of reforming how heritage sites are administered in British Columbia. Through this pilot, we are acting on our commitment to working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to protect these important sites.”

The act automatically protects heritage sites that contain artifacts, features, materials or other physical evidence of human habitation or use that pre-date, or are likely to pre-date, 1846, as well as burial places with archeological or historical value, rock art of Aboriginal origin and heritage wrecks. The Provincial Heritage Register includes over 60,000 protected heritage sites.

More than 90% of these are of First Nations origin. Sites on private or Crown land are automatically protected, whether they are known or unrecorded, intact or disturbed. Protected sites cannot be altered without a permit.

Under the act, the Province can enter into an agreement with a First Nation with respect to the conservation and protection of its cultural heritage sites and objects. These agreements, like the pilot agreement with the STSA, can provide protection for heritage sites of spiritual, ceremonial or cultural value, which would not otherwise be automatically protected under the act. Examples include sacred spiritual practice areas or ceremonial belongings. Agreements may also provide opportunities to jointly develop policies or procedures for Heritage Conservation Act permits affecting these sites.

Through government-to-government negotiation, the STSA and the Province have entered into this agreement to protect sites identified by the STSA as holding spiritual or cultural meaning. An implementation framework was co-developed as part of the agreement.

The pilot agreement will be in effect for one year. Before it ends, the STSA and the Province will evaluate the outcomes of the agreement and recommend whether to amend, extend or allow it to conclude. This agreement will provide important learning for potential future agreements with other First Nations and inform the recently launched Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project.

In March 2022, the B.C. government released the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan, which outlines how the Province will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration). The Action Plan includes a commitment (4.35) to “work with First Nations to reform the Heritage Conservation Act to align with the UN Declaration, including shared decision-making and the protection of First Nations cultural, spiritual, and heritage sites and objects.”

This Action Plan commitment is being advanced through Phase 1 of the Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project. The transformation project includes broad engagement with modern Treaty Nations, First Nations and key stakeholders of the Heritage Conservation Act and its administration, its alignment with the UN Declaration and the engagement process. Phase 1 will inform priority areas of change to align the act with the UN Declaration and to better meet the needs of all British Columbians.

Learn More:

Learn more about B.C.’s Archaeology Branch, heritage legislation and policies here:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/archaeology

Learn about the Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project here:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/natural-resource-use/archaeology/hca-transformation-project

Read B.C.’s Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act here:
https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/indigenous-people/new-relationship/united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples

Read the Declaration Act Action Plan here: https://declaration.gov.bc.ca/

Learn more about the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance here: www.thestsa.ca

Two backgrounders follow.

Contact:

Ministry of Forests
Media Relations
250 896-4320

BACKGROUNDER 1

What people are saying about protection of heritage sites

Angie Bailey, Chief of Aitchlitz First Nation, S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (STSA) political spokesperson –

“For a very long time, the leadership of our organization, representing the 17 Stó:lō First Nation members of the S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance, have worked toward enhancing our decision-making authorities over activities that affect our lands and our resources. A particular focus has been protecting our sacred heritage sites, including our transformation places, 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 badly disrespected. This agreement marks an achievement in our efforts to gain greater recognition of our Indigenous culture and heritage, as well as our Indigenous rights as stewards. Our Old People worked for generations alone in this effort. Now, we are joined by our provincial partners in the Ministry of Forests, jointly working to protect sacred Stó:lō sites and share in making decisions on activities that may affect them. This is a major step forward for First Nations heritage conservation in British Columbia.”

Mark Point, Chief of Skowkale First Nation, STSA executive board member –

“The STSA, and we as Stó:lō people, have lobbied a long time for this moment and we are pleased to celebrate with our partners in B.C. the recognition of our Indigenous world view and Indigenous landscape of sacred sites under this agreement – the first of its kind in the province. For far too long, our sacred sites have been ignored in the eyes of the settlers in our lands. We suffered serious losses to our heritage through the development of our lands over which we have had no say. Now things are changing for the better. Our agreement provides us a voice in decision-making with B.C., and it provides us visibility through the recognition of some of our most sacred sites. We believe that this agreement will be helpful to others and taking similar steps forward in reconciling the relationship between settler and Indigenous landscapes and serving to better care for places a great cultural importance.”

David Schaepe, director, Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre, chair and general manager, STSA, lead negotiator for STSA –

“Developing the Heritage Conservation Act Section 4 Agreement was a tremendous collaborative undertaking. We’ve opened a new chapter in expanding the scope of Indigenous heritage recognition and protection in B.C. This agreement navigates a middle ground of inclusion in what constitutes a truer public heritage. It is making headway, climbing the ladder of shared decision-making. I believe this to be a good precedent for others to work with throughout the province and more broadly.”

Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation –

“Making sure that important cultural, spiritual and heritage sites and objects are protected for the future, and in a way that has decisions being made jointly between government and First Nations, is a vital part of reconciliation. The Declaration Act and the Action Plan have provided guidance and direction for government as we move forward, and this agreement between the Province and S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance is a good example of that.”

Contact:

Ministry of Forests
Media Relations
250 896-4320

BACKGROUNDER 2

Facts about heritage sites on Crown lands within Stó:lō Nation territory

The 45 Stó:lō heritage sites covered by the agreement are located in the Central Fraser Valley, in the Chilliwack and lower Fraser River watersheds.

  • The S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance consists of 17 First Nations:
    • Chawathil First Nation;
    • Cheam First Nation;
    • Kwaw’Kwaw’Apilt First Nation;
    • Scowlitz First Nation;
    • Seabird Island Band;
    • Shxw’ōwhámél First Nation;
    • Skawahlook First Nation;
    • Skwah First Nation;
    • Sumas First Nation;
    • Yale First Nation; and
    • the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe, including:
      • Aitchelitz First Nation;
      • Shxwhà:y Village;
      • Skowkale First Nation;
      • Soowahlie First Nation;
      • Squiala First Nation;
      • Tzeachten First Nation; and
      • Yakweakwioose First Nation.

Contact:

Ministry of Forests
Media Relations
250 896-4320

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