While I was away over the summer the local free paper, the Victoria News, did a (to my mind) high quality series on reburial and respect in Songhees and Esquimalt communities (cache). The three articles by Lisa Weighton include comments from numerous aboriginal spiritual and political leaders, and sensitively describes how Straits Salish faith asserts that the dead are always with the living. The dead do not conveniently depart to some other place, but continue in a world alongside and intersecting the world of the living.
Hence ancestral remains are not something belonging to a past which can be “gotten over” but are very much part of the present world. Laying a person to rest, or back to rest after disturbance, requires food, clothing and prayer. I don’t pretend to understand the concept well, but I have been to some such ceremonies and the power of the moment is impossible to deny. In my limited experience the article fairly represents the spiritual and emotional needs that must be met under the sad circumstance of disturbing the dead. It is incumbent on archaeologists and all citizens to not only work to minimize disturbance of the dead but to respect traditional practices. It has been impressed on me that such practices are meant to protect us, the living, First Nations or not, as well as to give comfort and respect to the dead. This should now be considered absolutely part of mainstream archaeology.
As I linked some time ago, the City of Victoria has recently been acting quite responsibly in paying for reburial and associated ceremonies of human remains found during City construction activities (those links are now mainly dead, unfortunately). The VicNews article also gives credit to former Mayor Allan Lowe for at least opening lines of communication with Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs, and there is interesting commentary on the historical relationship between the Chinese and Aboriginal communities in Victoria:
Lowe said he knows other mayors weren’t successful in trying to build those relationships. Perhaps he was successful because he wasn’t white.
“The Chinese were also discriminated against and I still remember some of my friends that I would meet down in Chinatown, and one (First Nations) guy … used to tell me, ‘we’re very close to the Chinese community because when no one else would allow us to go to the restaurants, we were welcome in Chinatown.’”
I remember going to a commemoration related to the Chinese Cemetery in the early days of Allan Lowe’s tenure as mayor. Former UVIC professor David Lai gave a wonderful speech, the punchline of which was a quote he had dredged up from a 19th century issue of the Daily Colonist, in which their phrase to express “until hell freezes over” was “until a Chinaman [sic] was Elected Mayor of Victoria”. Does it seem ludicrous to posit a First Nations Mayor of the City of Victoria?