Totem raising is ‘a day in history’

Tseycum First Nation celebrates deal with province over road construction, burial sites


Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) · Sat, Nov 17, 2012

A decades-old dispute between a Saanich Peninsula First Nation and the provincial government took a tentative step toward reconciliation Friday.

As Tseycum First Nation celebrated the unveiling of a newly refurbished totem pole on West Saanich Road, Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong offered regrets for the hurt caused by construction of the road over historical burial sites. “We can’t change the past, but we need to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation,” said Chong, who also offered concrete recognition in the form of $200,000.

About $150,000 will be used for the Journey Home cemetery, where the remains of 55 people — some dating back 2,000 years — were reburied in 2008 after being returned by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Tseycum have had to also rebury remains disturbed during work on West Saanich Road. Other remains are still under the road.

“We understand the importance of Tseycum’s efforts to both repatriate their ancestors and bury their people with dignity,” Chong said at the ceremony overlooking Patricia Bay.

“This agreement is an opportunity to recognize the living history of the Tseycum First Nation on the Saanich Peninsula and to build a future based on respect and recognition.”

In addition to simmering anger over the remains under the road — the issue has in the past led to blockades and threats of lawsuits — the community has also become increasingly unhappy about speeding drivers.

Those concerns came to a head last winter when a driver knocked down the totem pole, which looked out to sea, acting as the community’s guardian.

Even though the small truck was seen speeding off, the driver was never caught, and the community was hurt by the loss of the pole, Chief Tanya Jones said.

The re-raising of the pole represents a new beginning, Jones said.

“It will be a day in history for Tseycum First Nation,” she said.

The remaining $50,000 from the province will be used to help further a plan for road improvements and to assist with reconciliation, she said.

The pole, carved by James Jimmy under the tutelage of master carver Charles Elliott, depicts a frog and an orca.

“The frog is on the bottom as our connection to this earth,” Elliott said. The orca on the top acknowledges that killer whales rule the sea.

It was difficult to decide whether to recarve and raise the pole again, as fallen poles are left on the ground to rot in Coast Salish culture.

“But this is an accident that happened, and I believe this is the right thing to do,” Elliott said.

Earlier on Friday, the province handed Tia-o-qui-aht First Nation $500,000 from the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund to help with construction of the Haa-ak-suuk Creek hydropower project in the Kennedy River watershed.

The government also agreed to speed up the transfer of a 12.1-hectare parcel of land in Tofino to Tla-o-qui-abt as part of an incremental treaty agreement. The land, near Tla-o-qui-aht’s Best Western Tin Wis Resort, will help provide jobs and economic opportunities through tourism development.

Under the agreement, the First Nation was given another $200,000 Friday for capacity-building-the last installment of a $600,000 payment.

“The announcements today are an economic springboard for our nation,” said Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Councillor Moses Martin



Elders Fred Charlie and Roger Charlie bless the refurbished Tseycum totem pole as it is restored to its position Friday.

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