Lightning Rock and associated burial mounds are located on an Atkinson Road property (Google Maps image).

Stó:lō leaders to call for return of sacred burial grounds

Province and developer have yet to reach agreement to turn over Lightning Rock site in Abbotsford

B.C. First Nation leaders are set to gather Friday near an Abbotsford burial site to call for the land to be returned to the Sumas First Nation.

Sumas Chief Dalton Silver and former Lieutenant Governor Steven Point will be joined by other First Nation leaders to call for the provincial government to work out a deal with the owners of the property, which sits at the base of Sumas Mountain.

Hundreds, potentially thousands, of Stó:lō people were buried at the Lightning Rock site beginning in the late 1700s, when a smallpox epidemic devastated local First Nations communities. Dozens of burial mounds have been identified at the site, which is located off of Atkinson Road and named for a large, distinctive rock.

The property in question isn’t part of the Sumas reserve. Instead, it’s held by a company that sought to build a farm equipment dealership on the site in 2014. That application was rejected by council after staff deemed it clashed with Abbotsford’s Official Community Plan and Stó:lō elders expressed concern that it would jeopardize the archaeological significance of the site.

RELATED: Agreement made to preserve Sumas burial site in Abbotsford

RELATED: Council denies agri-centre project

While the Sumas First Nation registered opposition to the development at the time, they and the owners, Cold Water Ranch, are now unified in a call for the province to find a way to get the land back in the hands of its original owners.

In 2017, the Sumas announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the province stating the two bodies would work together to protect the site. A press release at the time said the company, Cold Water Ranch, supported the process and “has committed to working with the Nation on finding a conclusion that is respectful to all.”

But there has been little public progress on the matter in the two years since. A press release issued this week said that “since 2012 the company has been negotiating with the Provincial Government to return the sacred site back to the Sumas people, but has yet to reach a settlement for their costs”

The owners of Cold Water Ranch will be on hand Friday morning when Silver, Point and other B.C. Indigenous elders gather at the site at 11 a.m. to call for action on the file.

A provincial spokesperson said discussions continue with the First Nation and the landowner, “with a focus on finding a solution that meets the needs of all parties.”

While the province says it acknowledges that the site is a sacred place, it isn’t automatically protected under the Heritage Conservation Act because necessary archaeological evidence required by that law isn’t available. That is, in part, because local people have said they don’t want the site disturbed. The province says it is “working to find an alternative solution.”


@ty_olsen
tolsen@abbynews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Village of Harrison seeks community plan feedback

Survey will update a 13-year-old community planning guide

SFU Pipe Band comes to Chilliwack

Champion bagpipers will play on Leap Day

Agassiz Anglican Church hosts benefit dinner

Door prizes, entertainment and a catered dinner

LETTER: We’re all shook up

Harvey Andrew of Agassiz reminisces about earthquakes in a letter.

Barking news: Annual Pet Lover Show returns to Abbotsford!

Largest animal showcase in Western Canada brings fur and feather fun

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

Woman charged after alleged fuel thefts, ramming of RCMP car in B.C. Interior

Suspect wanted for crimes allegedly committed in Kelowna, Salmon Arm and 100 Mile House

No dramatic shifts expected as B.C. government tables new budget today

Finance Minister Carole James has promised to stay the course when she tables the budget in the legislature

Surrey RCMP recover $80,000 worth of stolen bikes, weapons

Police found the property after executing two search warrants in Newton

AFN national chief calls for calm on Wet’suwet’en crisis, rail blockades

Hereditary chiefs in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation oppose the natural-gas pipeline

Federal, B.C. ministers seek meeting with Wet’suwet’en in hope of blockade solution

Coastal GasLink signed agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route

Flight to evacuate Canadians from cruise ship ‘expected’ to depart Japan on Thursday

Canadians seeking to return to home by commercial means will be subject to the Quarantine Act

VIDEO: Giants win 10th straight on home ice in Langley

Family Day was about spending time with the fans and dazzling them with a 3-2 victory over Seattle

Most Read