Open letter to Minister Steve Thomson, re: Grace Islet

May 6, 2014

Re: Grace Islet Coast Salish burial site and residential development

Dear Minister Steve Thomson,

I am writing you this to ask you to intervene and stop the residential development proposed for Grace Islet on Salt Spring Island. Unfortunately, efforts to meet with you in person have not been successful; however, this subject is incredibly important to me and other British Columbians and must be resolved.

As you know, Grace Islet has been a designated archaeological site with many burial features. Challenges have been evolving since at least 2006 when the owner of the Islet proposed residential construction over two-thirds of the Islet. Over that time both the Archaeology Branch and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) have failed to protect this ancient Coast Salish cemetery and properly designate it for its heritage value.

Prior to the involvement of your Ministry there were several decisions made that cause concern. For example why was this known archaeological site sold and designated by the local government for residential development?

I am disappointed by your decision to support this development. I am concerned by your responses to Saanich North & the Islands MLA Gary Holman’s inquiries regarding the project in question period on April 7, 2014. Your responses were captured in the Hansard record.

It is my understanding that you have all the powers you need to rectify this situation. You are empowered to designate heritage sites and compensate landowners for the loss of real estate value. For Grace Islet, you have failed to protect this site as other cemeteries are protected in the province.

I hope this site is not being sacrificed because the government does not want to set a precedent for compensating the landowner, because the precedent that is set by a lack of action is far worse.

Furthermore, there are potentially other sites similar to Grace Islet that require your protection. Working together with Mr. Holman, local government and First Nations leaders, we have the opportunity now to be proactive by investigating and taking positive action to protect these sites.

Minister, specifically I request that you,

  1. Reconsider your decision to allow residential construction to proceed over a known Coast Salish burial site (cemetery),
    1. Designate Grace Islet as a heritage site, and
    2. Compensate the owner for loss of real estate value due to the designation.

  2. Instruct your Ministry to establish a collaborative process with First Nations, elected local officials and property owners to identify similar burial sites within the Coast Salish territory with an intention to,
    1. Recognize the challenges and proactively seek solutions for each unique site on a case by case basis, and
    2. Officially designate as a heritage site if applicable.

As you know there are a number of First Nations that are exploring all their options to resolve this untenable situation. Additionally, I have started a petition that will hopefully compel you to reconsider your approach on this matter.

Why not resolve any potential difficulties now and send a strong message to First Nations people that their grave, burial and cemetery sites are highly respected and valued.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

Adam Olsen

cc. Premier Christy Clark
Gary Holman, MLA Saanich North & the Islands
Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands
Chief & Council:
Cowichan Tribes
Pauquachin First Nation
Penelekut First Nation
Tsartlip First Nation
Tsawout First Nation
Tseycum First Nation

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