Tag Archives: Songhees

Signs of Lekwungen

Signs of Lekwungen "Walk in Two Worlds", near corner of Fort and Wharf Street in Victoria. Source: Flickr.com user ngawangchodron

The city of Victoria in collaboration with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations has fairly recently created a series of outdoor art installations which mark culturally-significant places.   As the City’s online brochure explains,

Established in 2008, the Signs of Lekwungen (pronounced Le-KWUNG-en) is an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years.

The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are part of the Coast Salish family and are descendants of the Lekwungen family groups. Lekwungen is the original language of this land.

The Signs of Lekwungen consist of seven unique site markers – bronze castings of original cedar carvings, conceptualized and carved by Coast Salish artist, Butch Dick. The markers depict spindle whorls that were traditionally used by Coast Salish women to spin wool. The spindle whorl was considered the foundation of a Coast Salish family.

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VicNews: Rebirth through Reburial

Burial cairn on Race Rocks. Source: RaceRocks.com

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.

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Historic Maps and Dioramas of Victoria and Environs

Detail of Capt. Vancouver's 1792 chart showing the "supposed strait of Juan de Fuca". Source: viHistory

vihistory is a web site designed to aid in historical research of Vancouver Island, at which it succeeds admirably.  You should poke around and have fun with their census data and the other worthy, if dreary, pursuits it affords the serious scholar.

One feature which is not immediately clear on first glance, perhaps deliberately as has entertainment potential, is a large selection of very high-resolution maps and images which you can download from this page. The file sizes are large, of course, but increasingly that is less of an obstacle in the past.  The maps are mostly of historic Victoria, but there are some regional maps such as telegraph and lighthouse maps of British Columbia, and a couple of maps of Nanaimo.  As usual, I have surfed through the maps so you don’t have to – and some of them are remarkably fun, and informative.

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Photos of Victoria and Esquimalt, 1859

Victoria 1859. Source: LOC

In 1846, the Oregon Treaty established the boundary between British and American territory west of the Rockies (and unintentionally established the benchmark date for whether archaeological sites are automatically protected under the Heritage Conservation Act, but that’s another story).  Vancouver Island was to remain in British hands in its entirety, but otherwise the 49th parallel was to be the boundary on land.  The ocean boundary through the Salish Sea was resolved later, after the armed standoff on San Juan Island known as the “Pig War“.   An International Boundary Commission was struck, with the mandate of surveying the 49th parallel and one of its base camp headquarters in 1858 and 1859 was Esquimalt.  At this time, a series of photographs of the young Fort Victoria and surrounding buildings were taken, some of the earliest photographs from British Columbia I know of – including some remarkable pictures of First Nations people.

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Wapato, Camas, Tyee

4,000 year old Wapato tubers from archaeological site in Katzie territory.

The Tyee has a nice feature on invigoration of traditional use of Wapato (“Indian Potato”) and Camas.  I visited an open house at an archaeological site in Katzie territory a year or two ago and so here’s a couple of pictures of 4,000 year old Wapato tubers and a digging stick of presumably the same age which would have been used to help cultivate the wet beds.  At that site (almost completely destroyed by the new Golden Ears suburban commuter bridge), there were signs of the creation of enhanced “water gardens” for Wapato, and not just the harvesting of what occurs naturally.  Similarly, camas productivity was greatly enhanced by selective weeding and by the practice of tilling and selective bulb harvesting as well as deliberate burning to manage the camas fields.  All in all, exploitation of many plant foods (and shellfish) formed a practice intermediate between farming and gathering, and thereby are a powerful line of evidence for traditional use of large areas of SW British Columbia.  The Tyee article seems to me to be clear, accurate and informative.  I recommend it.

Tip of a wooden digging stick, ca. 4000 years old, Katzie territory. Two others of the dozens found can be seen in the background.

Capital Regional District Report

Decorated antler?, and a worked sea lion tooth from the Elchuk collection, Mill Hill.

I just came across this interesting document from 1999 by Liz Crocker (PDF) which is a cultural history of three CRD Parks: Mill Hill, Francis/King and Thetis Lake.  While I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in the archaeological component of this report, there are at least two notations of considerable interest.

The first is the documentation of an unrecorded shell midden at Mill Hill, not DcRu-70 but another site, including a sketch map of the location which is about 2 to 3 kilometres inland.  There are also reports of unrecorded inland shell middens at Thetis Lake Park. Since such sites are rare and poorly know,  then this is something worth following up.  Indeed, I wish the CRD took their stewardship role seriously enough to commission an intensive, comprehensive, and professional inventory of the archaeological heritage of all their Parks.  This kind of baseline information is so essential that I honestly don’t understand how they think they can discharge their duties without it.

The other point of interest in Crocker’s report is the documentation of a fairly large private collection, also from Mill Hill and also well inland.  Included in this collection are Locarno-style artifacts as well as more recent ones such as a flat-topped handmaul.  Appendix 2 of the linked report includes some snapshots  of this collection.  Despite the poor quality, it is great to see private collections being documented.  The small decorative piece shown above is interesting and unusual, and the abundance of organic remains suggests again that these were collected from or near a shell midden.  Again, something to follow up. If only there were a Ph.D. student at UVIC, say, who was interested in inland shell middens…..

Sketch map of reported but unrecorded inland shell midden patches at Mill Hill.

Victoria-Songhees reburial

Mayor Fortin builds a bridge to the Songhees First Nation. Picture: Johnstonstreetbridge.org

Last summer there was a sad incident with human remains being disturbed in the Dallas Road area of Victoria. The remains, of a young SLENI (woman) were subsequently reburied and since then a burning ceremony has been held.  I’ve been privileged to attend burning and reburial ceremonies and they are powerful and sincere events.  Interesting then to see this news snippet today , focusing on the cost ($9,400) — I can hardly wait for the informed and balanced commentary to ensue.  But kudos to Dean Fortin for doing the right thing – it is no more (or less) than most developers have done over the last decade when human remains were disturbed.  I have to say, though, it is disingenous for Mayor Fortin to note the Songhees reserve is not in the City of Victoria — memo to the Mayor: Victoria is within Songhees territory; the remains are from Songhees territory, the current reserve boundaries are completely irrelevant to this issue.

Victoria News

The cost of being freindly [sic]

By Lisa Weighton – Victoria News

Published: January 11, 2010 3:00 PM

Updated: January 11, 2010 3:34 PM

Mayor Dean Fortin is making First Nations relations a priority.

Last month, the city invested $9,400 in a traditional reburial ceremony after discovering 300-year-old human bones during a sewer retrenching project on Dallas Road, Aug. 27.

“We feel like we have an obligation to work with all other levels of government including our First Nations,” said Fortin.

The cost was a drop in the bucket in the overall $2.4 million-project said Derk Wevers, the city’s sewer and storm water quality technician.

Following consultation with Esquimalt First Nation elder Mary Anne Thomas and Songhees First Nation elder Elmer George, a reburial service was held Dec. 8.

The city also financed a traditional burning ceremony and feast on the Songhees First Nation reserve late last month, which included wages for a city contractor, gifts, food and the gravestone.

Fortin said he was eager to take part despite the reserve not being within Victoria’s boundaries.

Songhees claim for Cadboro Bay land compensation: update

There is a fairly progressive editorial in the Times-Colonist on the Cadboro Bay land compensation issue.  The editorial cites John Lutz’s excellent book Makuk:A New History of Aboriginal-White Relations, to boot.

Lawyer Rory Morahan, acting on behalf of the Songhees, says the Chekonein village sites and fields were never surveyed, reserved or protected as required by the treaty. “The colony, or the province, appropriated the lands and issued title to the lands to other parties — that is, non-aboriginal colonists,” he says. The statement of claim says the Crown never paid compensation for taking the treaty land between 1851 and 1871.

The case will be complicated, given the variety of historical documents that will be presented to the court. Some basic facts are not in dispute, since even Roderick Finlayson, an early chief factor for the Bay, mentioned the Cadboro Bay village in his memoirs.

Beyond what is written in the treaties, the court might need to consider whether the Lekwungen actually understood what they were agreeing to. Lutz’s research has raised questions about the communication gap between the aboriginals and the whites.

Douglas signed nine treaties with aboriginals on southern Vancouver Island and, as Morahan says, this lawsuit could set a precedent if successful.

The decision could have ramifications elsewhere in the province. The Lekwungen were the first aboriginals in British Columbia to be dispossessed by settlers, but similar actions — land grants given, then taken without compensation — occurred for decades.

If it is proven in court that an injustice has occurred, the governments should act quickly to make things right. After a century and a half, it’s time.

This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed a fairly progressive editorial slant down at the TC – good for them, as the comments on their pieces show, there is a lot of resistance to the notion of fair compensation.

Songhees claim to Cadboro Bay

Songhees claim to Cadboro Bay lands promised by Douglas. Source: TImes-Colonist.

The Douglas Treaties have stood up well in court but the fact remains that the rights to hunt and fish are severely compromised by urban developments.  Further, it is a widespread shameful pattern that the government went out of its way to reduce the sizes of the few, small reserves that were established and to eliminate some altogether.  It is very welcome to see the strong assertion of the Songhees Nation that they have the rights to 200 acres surrounding Cadboro Bay.

Lawyer Rory Morahan said the band is not trying to reclaim the land promised to it in one of the Douglas Treaties, but is asking for compensation and a declaration that it is Songhees land.

A statement of claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court yesterday, but it is likely to be at least a year before the case is heard.

The key to launching the lawsuit was finding historical documents, Morahan said. “There’s oral tradition about the village site, but in the courts you need more than oral tradition. We have been working on this for about a year, getting the details down,” he said.

The treaty with the Chekonein people, ancestors of the Songhees Nation, specifies that they would have 200 acres (80 hectares) around their Cadboro Bay village site, adjacent to the beach, and about 40 acres (16 hectares) of camas and potato fields.

“Under the treaty, the Songhees ancestors were promised that their village sites and fields would be protected for their use and the use of future generations, and that their villages and fields would be properly surveyed,” Morahan said.

Clearly, the Songhees are not asking for the land to be returned, but for compensation for its unlawful and duplicitous preemption.  The were successful in obtaining compensation a couple of years ago for the land under the legislative assembly, ironically enough and I imagine they have a good chance of success with this case as well. There is certainly an inarguable case for the archaeological significance of Cadboro Bay.

The comments in the Times-Colonist article are some of the most pathetic, racist, ignorant drivel I have ever seen, though.

CRM Problem in Cadboro Bay

cadboro bay mess

Uncontrolled destruction of Archaeological Site in Cadboro Bay, Victoria.

This week saw an all-too-familiar case of human remains disturbed by residential construction, this time in Cadboro Bay close to the University of Victoria. There are two major known sites in Cadboro Bay and many others must be there as well (I haven’t checked to see what has and has not been recorded). In addition to these known very large sites, it has been known since the 19th century (e.g.,  Cadboro Bay: Ancient City of the Dead — 6 meg PDF) that the slopes leading down from the top of Gordon Head were favoured places for human burials. So, no one could be surprised to find human remains in this area and indeed this is what happened.

A twist on the usual story comes with the reporting that the landowner, identified as Henry Ravenscourt, had had an archaeological impact assessment done and yet then excavated out almost the entire soil and subsoil of the lot in question. According to the Times-Colonist:

The property had been designated an archaeological site in Oct. 2008 when an Archaeological Impact Assessment was conducted there. Under the Heritage Conservation Act, the landowner was required to obtain a permit before digging, however, it appears no permit was granted for the new-home construction.

The Globe and Mail reports that,

Provincial [sic – probably consulting] archeologists who had been monitoring the property alerted police last Wednesday after discovering that workers digging the foundation for a new home had unearthed a human skull, knee and leg bone.

VicNews.com has added information: the Police say the landowner was in possession of the Archaeologist’s report:

Sgt. Julie Fast with Saanich police said the homeowner could possibly face charges through the Heritage Conservation Act because an Archaeological Impact Assessment was done on Hibbins Close in October 2008. That assessment designated it an archaeological site, which means, before any digging or building takes place, a permit issued through the Provincial Archaeological Branch is required.

“From what I understand, the homeworker is supposed to be in possession of the (permit). We are determining if they were aware (of the Archeological Impact Assessment), and if they had the letter,” Fast said.

The permit would designate how deep digging can be done and where a structure can be built without disturbing any remains on the property.

It is hard to say what is really going on here. If an AIA was conducted in October 2008, then surely the landowner had a copy of the report. Were there archaeologists monitoring the site? That would be consistent with a development process whereby archaeologists routinely watch backhoes and then jump in when the skulls start rolling. But surely the archaeologists would not have allowed such complete removal of material in such an uncontrolled way? I visited the site last week and saw how several, perhaps 10, dump trucks worth of material from almost the entire lot had been removed and there were only token piles of backfill. Where did this soil go? It undoubtedly contains human remains and archaeological material.  I trust the Archaeology Branch is tracing its whereabouts.

It is very welcome that the Police are considering charges in this case and I certainly hope that if a landowner or developer ignores an AIA recommendations that they get the book thrown at them as firmly as possible. Contrary to what the newspapers are reporting that the owner is subject to a 2,000 dollar fine, there appears to be a contravention under Section 13(2) of the Heritage Conservation Act, for which the maximum penalty under Section 36(3)a is $50,000 and six months for an individual, and 1,000,000 for a corporation. It is essential that the justice system starts to deal with these people in a serious manner. By completely removing the archaeological material from the property a landowner could in effect raise the property value by more than 50,000.

I share Songhees archaeologist Ron Sam’s cynicism though:

“They know full well there’s bones under there and they just go ahead and do it anyway because they know there’s no penalty,” Mr. Sam said, adding that the band is seeking legal advice. “We can say what we want, but at the end of the day it’s private property and we can’t stop it.”

Perhaps not. But those charged with managing and enforcing the Heritage Conservation Act and those responsible for gathering evidence and laying charges must start to make examples of those who flagrantly destroy the collective heritage.

Also check out this busybody’s letter to the Times-Colonist complaining about the costs incurred and implying the archaeologists are just making work.  Chris Harker of North Saanich, you officially have no idea what you are talking about.

cadboro bay mess 2

Note how close the excavation is to the property line.