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

COLUMN: We don’t need an election. But it’s 2020, so we’ll probably get one anyways.

There are only selfish reasons for the NDP to trigger an election this fall

Plea deal results in guilty plea in fatal Langley shooting in 2017

First degree murder charge amended to conspiracy to commit murder

Say ‘Hi’ to the mountains (and rain): The smoke is gone from the Fraser Valley, for now

Saturday’s Fraser Valley air quality forecast at ‘moderate risk,’ but morning showers leave skies clear

Abbotsford considers hiking development fees for new houses – and schools and churches

City considers hiking development cost charges on new institutional and agriculture buildings

Machine pistol among 14 firearms seized from Alaska man at Abbotsford border crossing

Corey Scott Kettering faces charges of smuggling and prohibited firearm possession

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Air quality advisory ends for the Lower Mainland

It had been in effect since Sept. 8

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read