On Friday, February 15, inspectors from the Archaeology Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations along with the BC Oil and Gas Commission trespassed on Unist’ot’en yintah (territory). They did not stop to go through the required Free, Prior and Informed Consent protocol, and thus had no consent to enter the territory. At no point did they inform Unist’ot’en spokespeople or chiefs of their presence or intentions. We were not able to witness their inspection of the site or notify professional archaeologists advising us on this matter. According to a member of the police Division Liaison Team,
“they [OGC and Arch Branch archaeologists] did take items from the site. […] What they advised us is that they had a ministerial order to take the artifacts”
While unattended and unobserved by Unist’ot’en members and hereditary chiefs, they removed stone tools that Unist’ot’en supporters had left in situ. They trespassed, tampered with an archaeological site, and stole gifts from the ancestors of this territory.
While The OGC and Branch archaeologists have not communicated the purpose of their trespass, we suspect it was for a “heritage inspection”. Section 15(2) of the Heritage Conservation Act states that
“the person conducting the heritage inspection or heritage investigation must make a reasonable attempt to notify the owner or occupier of the land and, if requested, present proof of his or her authorization”
We made it clear to the RCMP that we wanted to be notified and present for any inspection by archaeologists or government bodies. The Archaeology Branch has not responded to any of our communications (including the original notice we sent when the stone tools were uncovered), nor the numerous calls and letters from professional archaeologists advising us, nor have they provided us with information about who would be visiting or what their intentions here might be. We have been left completely in the dark as government representatives entered our territory without consent and removed our cultural inheritance. We had no way of ensuring that proper procedures were followed. We don’t know where they have taken the items they removed, or what they intend to do with them. The Archaeological Branch is showing blatant disregard and contempt for the ancestors of this territory, for those living here today, and for Wet’suwet’en law. Their actions are yet another invasion onto our lands, another example of colonial theft, another instance of state violence.
Section 16 of the Heritage Conservation Act states that
“If the minister considers that property has or may have heritage value and is likely to be altered for any reason, the minister may issue, to a person or class of persons, a stop work order that prohibits any alteration of the property for a period of up to 120 days, subject to any requirements and conditions the minister considers appropriate”
The actions of the Archaeology Branch and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations seem to indicate that they are more concerned with Coastal GasLink’s desire to resume work as quickly as possible than with protecting Wet’suwet’en ancestors, people, and culture. We do not trust that they will follow the proper cultural or professional protocols given their disrespectful and dishonest conduct. If the Archaeology Branch aims to proceed with respect to Unist’ot’en and our ancestors, we would like to be made aware of this directly. So far they have failed to contact us, and have shown no evidence of their intention to proceed in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law. We call upon the Minister overseeing the Heritage Conservation Act, Hon. Doug Donaldson, to issue a stop work order immediately under section 16 before more harm is inflicted on our yintah.
Media Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Freda Huson, Spokesperson
Dark House – Unist’ot’en