Ancestral remains reburied in ceremony with St'uxwtews First Nation and Ashcroft Terminal

·3 min read
Ashcroft Terminal entrance near Ashcroft, in B.C.'s southern Interior. The St'uxwtews First Nation says the area contains an ancient village site. (Doug Herbert/CBC - image credit)
Ashcroft Terminal entrance near Ashcroft, in B.C.'s southern Interior. The St'uxwtews First Nation says the area contains an ancient village site. (Doug Herbert/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Ancestral remains which are estimated to be more than 3,000 years old were reburied Thursday night after a site was agreed upon by the St'uxwtews First Nation and Ashcroft Terminal in B.C.'s southern Interior.

Since the discovery by staff at the Ashcroft Terminal during redevelopment work at the railway transfer site, the remains have been stored onsite in a locked trailer.

Last week, elders of the St'uxwtews First Nation met in their community hall near Cache Creek, B.C., to discuss their growing concerns about the nearby terminal. They fear continued expansion could damage other possible burial sites. The St'uxwtews originally wanted the terminal operators to rebury the remains where they were found, but the company said that was impossible due to the changes made during the expansion.

The traditional ceremony Thursday layed the remains to rest in a wooden box, with St'uxwtews members covering them with dirt by hand.

Future meetings are planned between the First Nation and the terminal operators to discuss more oversight of archeological finds and future economic opportunities.

St'uxwtews First Nation Chief Frank Antoine, centre, attends the reburial ceremony with band members and Ashcroft Terminal executives.
St'uxwtews First Nation Chief Frank Antoine, centre, attends the reburial ceremony with band members and Ashcroft Terminal executives.(Submitted by Karen Warren)

Ashcroft Terminal has previously found other remains during work on the site, and reburied them at the same location.

These remains were not reburied because the site was in use by terminal staff, the company said.

The terminal operators have been going back and forth with the First Nation to decide on where the remains should be placed. But talks broke down in late January after the First Nation was asked to provide a location.

The Ashcroft Terminal is a major inland transloading and container storage distribution centre that serves the main lines of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways.

The terminal sits on 670 acres of land on the Thompson River near Ashcroft within the traditional territory of the St'uxwtews First Nation.

The current expansion project involves laying more track and making room for more trains and trucks to load and unload cargo.

The First Nation believes this area was the site of a historic village and more artifacts remain to be uncovered.

A box containing ancestral remains that may be more than 3,000 years old was reburied in a ceremony Thursday.
A box containing ancestral remains that may be more than 3,000 years old was reburied in a ceremony Thursday.(Submitted by Karen Warren)

"That's an unacceptable development in that area," Elder Gerald Etienne told CBC's Doug Herbert. "It's a grave injustice by a colonial system."

Newly elected St'uxwtews Chief Frank Antoine said he wants the Ashcroft Terminal to hire an independent archeologist reporting solely to the First Nation in the interest of transparency.

Currently an in-house archeologist employed by the terminal is expected to report any discoveries of artifacts or human remains to the band, the company and the province.

St'uxwtews First Nation Elder Gerald Etienne, right, and Coun. Keith Zabotel said they initially wanted the remains put them back in the locations where they were discovered.
St'uxwtews First Nation Elder Gerald Etienne, right, and Coun. Keith Zabotel said they initially wanted the remains put them back in the locations where they were discovered.(Doug Herbert/CBC)

"Anything to do with our ancestors is dealing with our family," Antoine said. "They are disturbing our whole community when they do that [put remains in a trailer], and they need to understand."

Ashcroft Terminal spokesperson Kleo Landucci said her company has been trying to work with the St'uxwtews and other First Nations in the region.

"The important thing is to really keep the cultural and historic and scientific significance and make sure that that is respected … there are other alternatives that we're looking at, making sure we respect the history."

Tap the link below to learn more from Doug Herbert's debrief on Daybreak Kamloops:

Tap the link below to hear St'uxwtews Coun. Verna Billy Minnabarriet about the ceremony on Thursday on Daybreak Kamloops:

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