20210818 Tsiqitsi 36

Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage

Indigenous cultural heritage resources are not adequately protected in BC, but a recently released report prepared in partnership with the Tŝilhqot’in National Government and in consultation with other BC Nations aims to change that. Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage Resources on Private Land highlights opportunities to improve the current legal framework and to empower Indigenous management and protection of heritage resources.

Nations in BC have demonstrated leadership and asserted jurisdiction to protect and preserve vital cultural heritage resources, such as artifacts, spiritual sites, initiation sites, transformation sites, burial grounds, cultural practice sites, ceremonial bathing sites, and culturally significant landscapes. However, gaps in provincial law and policy continues to lead to the destruction of cultural heritage, which are under threat from resource development, construction, urbanization, tourism, theft, and vandalism.

In addition to legal recommendations for provincial and local governments, Protecting Indigenous Cultural Heritage Resources on Private Land provides examples of measures Nations have used to protect their cultural heritage resources and to assert jurisdiction on private lands. These methods have included establishing permitting systems, increasing their internal capacity and monitoring of their territory, and developing relationships with proponents and municipal governments. Other tools include registering covenants, establishing Indigenous Protected and Conservation Areas, and purchasing land. The compilation of examples shares what strategies are working and what lessons have been learned. The hope is that the compilation and recommendations will help to raise awareness and add to the conversation that Indigenous communities are leading on preserving and managing their cultural heritage resources.

The aspect that surprised me the most in writing this report is the unique legal structure in Hawai’i, where Indigenous peoples can exercise their rights on private property, provided they have an ancestral connection to that area.  From reading the report, I want people to think about the fact that “cultural heritage” has a much broader meaning than how we conceptualize it in a Western context. The protection of Indigenous cultural heritage resources goes hand-in-hand with environmental protection and the revitalization of Indigenous laws. Legal and policy reform from all levels of government, as well as the willingness and participation of private land owners and industry, is required to ensure that Indigenous peoples can access their artifacts, sites, burial grounds, and culturally significant landscapes.

Emmaline English (ELC Spring 2021 Clinic student)

Emmaline English