Robert Barron column: Exciting work at ancient native village

I can’t wait to visit Ye’yumnuts when all the work is done.

I was excited to talk to archaeologist Eric McLay earlier this week as he explained to me about the efforts being made to commemorate and document an ancient 2,000 year-old indigenous village that has been discovered near Duncan.

He said the site, called the Ye’yumnuts village and located near the foot of Mount Prevost, was used by local native communities as a living centre and a graveyard for 1,200 years before being abandoned.

The site was discovered after work began to build a subdivision there in the 1990s, which was halted after human remains and other artifacts were uncovered.

Now several groups, including Cowichan Tribes, Nature Trust of BC, the province, School District 79 and the Municipality of North Cowichan, have joined together to turn the whole area into an outdoor classroom for local schools and the public to learn about the area’s ancient past and the people that lived here.

The plan also involves establishing new trail systems, an interpretive kiosk, outdoor classroom area, fencing and signage for public education about the site.

I can recall another such site in Nanaimo that was uncovered in 2006 in that city’s Departure Bay area when work began on a condo project near the beach.

Approximately 85 sets of intact remains were discovered and work on the condo project was immediately halted.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation, which had a winter village at the site for more than 4,000 years before being displaced by mining activities in the late 1800s, insisted that remains of their ancestors stay in place exactly as found and be covered up.

After lengthy negotiations with the condo developer, the province finally purchased the property for $3 million and returned the land to the Snuneymuxw.

The archaeologist I was talking to at the time also had visions of turning the site into a green space that would have trail systems, an interpretive kiosk, fencing and signage that would explain the historical significance of the area.

I thought it was a great, but nothing has come from it.

The site lay abandoned and overgrown with weeds for years, and even the small fenced area where the graveyard was discovered began to look dilapidated and untended.

Recently, another condo development has been constructed on the site right next to the graveyard, leaving it looking even more forlorn and forgotten.

So much for the green space and the measures to bring history alive through signage and an interpretative centre.

I mentioned this when I was talking to McLay and he said that is what can happen when governments and local groups don’t work together to fulfill these plans.

He said the initiative at Ye’yumnuts is unlike the site in Departure Bay in that regard as many local groups have decided that they want this project completed, and are prepared to provide the resources to see it through.

I think there’s also a growing appreciation as to how important native cultures were, and still are, to the fabric of North America.

McLay agreed with my assessment and added that he believes the heritage management work at Ye’yumnuts is a significant change toward how the public treats First Nations heritage sites in British Columbia.

“It reflects a movement from historical neglect, destruction and conflict toward working collaboratively to actively preserve, respect and learn about First Nations’ history for the future,” he said.

I can’t wait to visit Ye’yumnuts when all the work is done.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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