The Sooke School District fenced off a large portion of the Edward Mile Community School parking lot Tuesday after a dispute with the George family of the T’Sou-ke First Nation
“The issue arose (Feb. 24) after a portion of the parking lot was taped off when the George Family raised concerns about the burial ground of some of their family members on the land directly adjacent to the parking lot,” Scott Stinson, school superintendent, said.
“We are trying to arrange for a meeting between the school district, the T’Sou-ke First Nation and the George family to resolve the issue that has only recently come to our attention.”
According to a School district spokesperson, that meeting did take place last week, without resolving the situation and another meeting with the First Nation will take place at some future date.
Members of the George Family have taken issue with the media coverage of the situation.
“This boundary became necessary as SD students /staff/guests have damaged the area,” Charlene George said in an email.
George went on to say that this has been an ongoing issue since well before Christmas and that, although EMCS has reported to have been working with the students, for the last month, the damage continued.
Despite these claims, George refused to respond to telephone calls and emails asking for details about the situation and what alleged damage had been done.
In a text message, George said only that the media was reporting misinformation.
A person with knowledge of the matter said representatives of the George family arrived at the school and taped off the east portion of the parking lot with light bamboo twigs and red landscape tape. It led to some heated verbal encounters between students and the First Nations’ group.
For its part, the school district is trying to diffuse the situation by installing portable fencing across the disputed area while they work toward a resolution.
In a release to the Sooke News Mirror, the George family said the boundary was necessary as EMCS students, staff and guests damaged the cemetery area.
“This escalated to vicious and malicious damages discovered Tuesday morning,” the family wrote. “This is not the first incident.”
The family added the area was taped off as a “teaching tool to visually set” a boundary for students.
A small cemetery lies about 25 metres from the EMCS parking lot. The area is bounded by a rough fence and the surrounding pavement has large “private property” signs spray painted in one-metre tall letters across the concrete.
The parking lot at EMCS has existed since the school’s opening in 1986, and this is the first time there’s been conflicts over the burial grounds or the school parking lot, Stinson said.
Last year, the T’Sou-ke First Nation built a Petro-Canada gas station and Tim Hortons outlet on the lands east of the traditional burial site.
The school was built on the traditional territory of the T’Sou-ke Nation.