media release

Ancestral remains make historic trip home

August 28, 2011

Catherine D’Andrea (to reach Roy Carlson/Heiltsuk Nation reps.), 778.782.5790, 604.721.9835 (cell),
Dixon Tam, SFU PAMR, (traveling with return team to Namu), 778.782.8742, 604.417.0881 (cell),

Rudy Reimer
Photo on Flickr

Up to 150 people from academia, Bella Bella (a northern B.C. coastal community), and the Heiltsuk First Nation will descend on Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

They will gather at Saywell Hall Atrium at noon to witness the ceremonial launch of a historic journey — the return of Aboriginal ancestral remains from SFU to Namu, an archaeological site near Bella Bella, B.C.

Namu, a tiny island 150 kilometres (70 miles) north of the northern tip of Vancouver Island, is part of the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

A group of archaeologists led by Roy Carlson, the founder of SFU’s archaeology department, excavated the 1,000 to 5,000 year old ancestral remains from Namu in the 1960s and ‘70s. The Heiltsuk Tribal Council (HTC) had approved the project.

The reburial of the remains in Namu on Sept. 2, followed by a community celebration in Bella Bella on Sept. 3, will mark the end of the remains’ 33-year residence in SFU’s archeology department.

During that time, with the approval of the HTC, they became the subject of many studies, including an ongoing one directed by Carlson. The current project is comparing the ancestral DNA to samples that will be taken from present day Bella Bella residents.

“We are very excited about this study,” says Catherine D’Andrea, chair of SFU’s archaeology department. “The DNA work is being conducted by professor Malhi Ripan at the University of Illinois. He has completed sampling of the ancient human remains and is now analyzing the samples. This research could yield important results, both in terms of increasing our knowledge about the B.C. central coast’s human history and in producing data relevant to significant First Nations issues, such as land claims.”

The remains from Namu inspired the creation of a unique exhibit in SFU’s Museum of Archaeology that features an actual stratigraphic section from the site.

In accordance with government regulations that necessitate the presence of an archaeologist when exhumed ancient remains are being returned to an excavation site, Carlson has been working in Namu. With the government’s blessing he is helping Chief Harvey Humchitt and the Heiltsuk First Nations people prepare an area near the original burial site for the reburial of the long ago exhumed remains.

The HTC approved the remains’ repatriation (reburial) in 1994. But the aboriginal group asked SFU to continue housing them until arrangements could be made for their return home.

The remains are finally going home thanks to the HTC’s creation of 40 boxes made out of steamed and bent planks of cedar to eternally house them in Namu.

Carlson and Humchitt will be in Burnaby for the departure ceremony from SFU. They will then start the journey Aug. 31 back to Namu with the remains, preside, along with Heiltsuk First Nations people, over the reburial and help celebrate the conclusion of their epic trip.

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Backgrounder: Schedule of events for reburial of Namu ancestors

Tuesday, Aug. 30, noon start, Saywell Hall Atrium, Burnaby campus

Noon: Opening remarks and Calling of Witnesses, Rudy Reimer/Yumks, SFU archaeologist and Squamish Nation member, and Jessica Humchitt, SFU biology student and Heiltsuk Nation member, will co-host two hour ceremony to mark send-off of Heiltsuk ancestral remains on return journey to original burial ground. They will call on four witnesses who are charged with telling the ceremony to those not in attendance.

12:05 pm: Songs and Words of Welcome: Leonard and Margaret George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Jonathan Driver, SFU VP-academic; a Heiltsuk Nation Council leader and John Craig, dean of SFU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will welcome everyone in attendance to the ceremony in Coast Salish territories (SFU is in this area).

12:20 pm: Blessing of ancestors: Four Heiltsuk Elders will bless two boxes made of steamed and bent cedar wood planks that house the remains of their Namu ancestors. One box will contain some of the most recent remains. The other will bear some of the oldest remains. Once they reach their original burial sites in Namu, all the remains will be distributed among a total of 48 bentwood boxes.

12:25 pm: Signing of documents to transfer Namu ancestors from SFU to Heiltsuk, Heiltsuk Tribal Council member Marilyn Slett will witness Roy Carlson, SFU professor emeritus of archaeology, and Harvey Humchitt, Heiltsuck chief, signing transfer documents, including ones made of parchment by Eldon Yellowhorn, an SFU archaeologist.

12:30 pm: Cedar Ring Cleansing Ceremony and Remarks by Witnesses: Audience will view through atrium window smoke rising from exterior burning of food offering on cedar plank to ancestors. Heiltsuk Elders will perform the offering while witnesses comment to the audience.

1:00 pm: Blessing of food for audience to eat by Margaret Brown, Heiltsuk Elder

1:05 pm: Refreshments and open microphone

1:30 pm: Closing remarks provided by Carlson; Ken Campbell, Heiltsuk Nation chief and William Lindsay, director, SFU Office of Aboriginal Peoples

2:00 pm: Travel blessing and send off by Heiltsuk Nation member


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