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FAQs about Xwe'etay
Which First Nations lived on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti?
Before the imposition of colonial laws, the Coast Salish had well developed systems of governance that were based on affiliation with particular households, villages, and village clusters. All these affiliations were tied to particular places. Beginning in the late 18th century, colonial forces, such as the removal of people from their traditional lands and dramatic declines in population through introduced diseases, resulted in a host of social changes including the reforming of social-political groupings. Today’s social-political amalgamations of First Nations, while based on ethnicity and language (ethno-linguistic groups), do not fully reflect the complexities of their identities and connection to their ancestral territories.
Today, 13 First Nations are listed as having a cultural connection to Xwe’etay/Lasqueti. To learn more, visit https://maps.gov.bc.ca/ess/hm/cadb/.
Did people live on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti year–round?
Absolutely. A common misconception is that First Nations did not live on any of the Gulf Islands on a permanent basis and only visited the islands for short periods to gather foods and materials. This misconception stems from the fact that by the time European settlers came to the islands, Indigenous Peoples had largely been removed and/or left. The belief that this was an empty landscape that belonged to no one (terra nullius “the land of no one”) was foundational to colonization. In fact, oral traditions and the archaeological record indicate that Xwe’etay/Lasqueti was densely populated, with a mix of different kinds of settlements, including very large, year-round villages. This would have been true for all of the Gulf Islands.
How many people lived on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti?
Dating the archaeological record and measuring ancient house sizes and locations will never be precise enough to effectively answer this question. However, what we do know, without a doubt, is that prior to European contact in the region, Xwe’etay/Lasqueti was densely settled. There would have been people everywhere!
What is the oldest archaeological site on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti?
We are just beginning our archaeological investigations on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti so we do not fully know the answer to this question – yet! Given Xwe’etay/Lasqueti’s ideal position in the middle of the Strait of Georgia, we expect it to have been occupied as soon as sea levels receded after the peak of the last glacial period (the “glacial maximum”) and the island was inhabitable – about 13,000 years ago. So far, we have a site dated to 2700 years ago, and this is the first site we’ve excavated.
What kinds of sites have already been documented on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti?
About 50 archaeological sites are currently listed in the B.C. Provincial archaeology database. The vast majority of these sites were recorded in the 1970s, mostly after being observed from the deck of a boat during a regional archaeological survey. Few details, other than location were recorded and any information on site extent is a dramatic underestimate. More recent visits to these places, and to many as of yet unrecorded sites, indicate that a range of sites is present on the island: permanent large and small settlements, camps, lookout sites, fish traps, clam gardens, and so on.
Why don’t First Nations live on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti today?
Due to introduced European diseases and the subsequent decimation of Indigenous communities, we believe that First Nations largely stopped living on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti in the late 1700s but continued to visit Xwe’etay/Lasqueti until the mid-to late 20th century as part of a resource collecting seasonal round. It is this more recent behaviour that fostered the settler notion that the islands of the Salish Sea, including Lasqueti, were used for resource procurement and not as places for permanent settlement. Today, the island is inhabited by its settler community. However, there are other Gulf Island (e.g., Quadra) with established First Nations Reserves where the age-old connections to particular places continues.
Is Xwe’etay/Lasqueti included in any First Nation’s Treaty area?
Yes. Xwe’etay/Lasqueti is included in the treaty area of Tla’amin First Nation
FAQs about Heritage
What is heritage?
Archaeologist George Nicholas defines heritage as, “the objects, places, knowledge, customs, practices, stories, songs, designs, and relationships, conveyed through generations, that define or contribute to a person’s or group’s identity, history, worldview, and well-being.” Archaeological sites are storehouses of this heritage.
Why should we protect heritage?
Heritage is personal and communal. It is completely tied in with an individual’s sense of self and community identity. Thus, by destroying heritage or people’s access to it, is damaging to both a person’s and their community’s connections to place and ancestry. Protecting heritage is a basic human right and is in line with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [UNDRIP], British Columbia’s Declaration on the Right’s of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), and the findings of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC]).
What do I have to gain by having an archaeological site on my property?
The archaeological record holds a wealth of historical knowledge that should be honored and protected – and will inform how we sustainably steward lands in the future.
Perhaps more important is that archaeological sites are much more than just a collection of artifacts and features that can be studied. They are the material record of generations of lives lived in particular places. Understanding this record enables First Nations and settlers alike to (re)connect to age-old cultural knowledge and practices that were weakened by colonial impacts.
If any of this resonates with you, then what you can gain is huge. You get to know your land better, more deeply, and to daily feel the privilege of being part of the history of that place. And, you get to know that you’re doing the best you can to protect the record that archives the lives of 100s of generations of people who have lived in that spot before you. Ultimately, respecting local Indigenous heritage means respecting the descendant communities whose past is embedded in the archaeological record. This is a small, but foundational step towards reconciliation.
How can I best steward the archaeological sites on my own property?
A foundational goal of the XLAP project is to work with settler and First Nations communities to together figure out how best to honor and protect the archaeological heritage on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti in a way that is most inclusive and effective.
The first step to honoring this heritage is knowing the extent of archaeological heritage on the land. Many landowners on Lasqueti don’t even know that they have a recorded archaeological site on their property. In XLAP, we have been working to let people know this and many people are surprised to hear this (both pleasantly and not-so-much). However, even when someone knows they have a recorded site, the Provincial record is likely to give an incomplete or incorrect understanding of that record.
For that reason, our vision is to create a small team of local folks who know how to see the landscape through an archaeological lens. As part of XLAP, we also have the means to visit people’s property to check things out for you. There is the potential for huge additional value to these visits: if you want, and the site is not too disturbed, we will extract a small core from the site to determine its age (at $400/sample paid for by XLAP). Gathering the size and age of the sites will help us know the long-term history of this island – and will go way beyond the already recorded list of sites in the Provincial database. This information is the foundation to better stewarding the deep heritage on which you are living today.
Ultimately, for us to be truly responsible stewards of our island’s archaeological heritage requires islanders to talk openly about both their excitement and their concerns associated with recognizing the past Indigenous presence on the island. It is only in this way that we can work together to honor the Indigenous past of this special place, together with its present and future inhabitants in partnership with surrounding First Nations.
What is an archaeological site?
An archaeological site is often formally defined as a place where there are the physical (tangible) remains of past activities. In this context, most often people think of artifacts and immobile features such as firepits and post holes or rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs) as well as the layers in the ground that contain these remains. However, a more expansive definition – and one we promote in the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeology Project, also includes other kinds of physical evidence of past activities such ancient orchards, and berry and root gardens. We also honor “non-tangible” heritage, such as stories, names for beings and places, songs, and dances.
Why should we protect archaeological sites?
Archaeological sites are heritage archives. Through time, the remains of past lives lived are deposited sequentially in layers in the ground. These layers, tell the stories of those lives and like archives that contain written histories, are precious and irreplaceable. If we destroy an archaeological site, either by mixing or removing these layers, we have irrevocably destroyed the potential to re-tell the stories captured within them.
Importantly, archaeological sites are viewed as sacred places by some First Nation communities. They are regarded as the material presence of their ancestors and all forms of disturbance to archaeological sites, including by archaeologists, are perceived as harmful to both the ancestors and those who are causing the disturbance. Contrasting with conventional archaeological wisdom, from an Indigenous perspective, the archaeological record is not a static repository of past human behavior; rather it is a fundamental component of a living history. In this sense, archaeological materials and sites are not resources, they are meaningful belongings and places that spatially and temporally anchor descendant communities to the land.
How is heritage protection an act of reconciliation?
Acts of colonization, such as the forced removal of Indigenous Peoples from their homes and families, deliberately denied people’s access to their traditional lands, their stories, their language, and their identities. Honoring and respecting Indigenous heritage is a fundamental part of turning around this legacy. This includes actively and consciously working to protect Indigenous heritage in all its guises (language, stories, place names, archaeological sites).
What is community-based archaeology?
Community-based archaeology (CBA) is grounded in the idea the best way to protect and preserve archaeological heritage is to educate local communities about the importance of heritage and to engage them in the discussion of how best to manage this heritage. This bottom-up approach to managing archaeological heritage is more likely to protect and preserve the archaeological record than a strictly top-down, regulatory approach. A community-based approach seeks alternative models for archaeological heritage management that address community needs and desires and promote heritage conservation. This differs dramatically from the solely top-down model that is currently in place – where fundamental decisions about how to manage the local archaeological record, including who should be involved in this management, are largely made remotely by government officials.
FAQs about Heritage Laws and Regulations
How can I find out where the archaeological sites are on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti?
There is a long-standing belief by some archaeologists that letting the public know about the location of archaeological sites will result in more heritage destruction by individuals looking for artifacts. Thus, the current Provincial law is that the location of archaeological sites in the province is not public information and only researchers, professional archaeologists, land owners, First Nations, industry active in land altering development and resource extraction activities, and realtors can request archaeological information about specific locations from the Provincial Archaeology Branch.
However, archaeological sites in the province – like the rest of the world – are being destroyed at an alarming rate (so fast that there may not be any left in 50 years!). It has been proven over and over that an educated public is more likely to want and be able to preserve archaeological heritage and that it is better to share information on site location. There are of course exceptions to this rule: sacred sites such as burials and some rock art sites should not be made public.
What should I do when I find a site on my property?
By law, you are supposed to call the Provincial Archaeology Branch. Short of that, we recommend you avoid any damage to the site and leave it alone. If you want to know the boundaries of the site so you can better protect it, work with a local archaeologist to do minimal (low impact and low cost) investigations to determine the site boundaries.
For additional information,
What happens when I report a site on my property?
The site will be registered in the Provincial Archaeology Database.
For additional information:
How does the legal protection of archaeological sites play out on Xwe'etay/ Lasqueti?
Despite strong Provincial heritage laws protecting archaeological sites, the destruction of archaeological sites on our island and elsewhere largely continues at the pace of development – and in the vast majority of cases, with minimal or usually no archaeological investigations prior to site disturbance.
The reasons for this are many and vary depend on whether the potential development is at a large scale (say from a huge development corporation) or small scale (by a landowner). In the former case, many developers are coming around to realizing that exploring an archaeological site before it is destroyed is just “part of doing business” – the same way they would be required to mitigate destruction of a sensitive ecological zone.
For small landowners, however, there may be strong incentive to develop your property “under the radar” so that no archaeological investigation is required. This happens frequently on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti, where no building permits are required (and thus there is no trigger notifying the Archaeology Branch that development might be happening on an archaeological site), but this process is by no means limited to our island.
Might legal protection of archaeological sites change in the foreseeable future?
A major change over the last 27 years in the way archaeology is enacted is the involvement of First Nations in directing the management of their physical heritage. Over that time, three things have happened: 1) many Nation offices have hired their own archaeologists, 2) ecology consulting companies have archaeologists on staff who are tasked with working with local First Nations communities, and 3) academic archaeologists always work in partnership with the descendent communities in whose territories they are working.
Still, administrative changes happen at a glacial pace and there is much discontent among First Nations, archaeologists, and the general public about the way the Province’s archaeological heritage is managed (or not). As a result, the Province is doing a deep exploration of these concerns and is in the process of revisiting the Heritage Conservation Act through the Heritage Conservation Act Transformation Project. The XLAP project was also born out of these concerns about how best to honor and protect Indigenous heritage in a way that is most inclusive and effective.
I've already disturbed the archaeological sites on my property. Now what?
You will not be penalized for disturbances that happened years ago; what is done is done. What we want is to do the best going forward. When sites have already been disturbed, landowners can work with our team to know the extent of the sites and any future plans will be designed to minimize further disturbance.
Will there be financial repercussions if I find and report a site on my property?
There are no financial repercussions unless you decide you want to build on the site and thus partially or fully destroy it. In the latter case, by law you would be required to bring in an archaeologist to assess the potential damage and possibility to “mitigate” -- that is, to investigate some percent of the site before destruction. It is rare (sadly), that site destruction is not allowed to proceed. In a Community-based Archaeology context, an alternative possibility is that instead of calling a professional archaeologist, landowners could call on local experts to mitigate at a much-reduced cost and with the outcome of creating a more fully engaged community process for heritage protection. Over the past years, the press has had a heyday with a few cases where landowners were blind-sided by the legal requirement to minimize destruction to archaeological sites that had been found on their property. In almost every such case, this has come about because no one informed the property owner that they had a site on their property. In some cases, property owners only found out part way through a development project that archaeological remains (e.g., ancient houses, burials, artifacts of various kinds) were present on the property. It is true that if you start a project and discover a site, then legally you are supposed to stop work and consult with an archaeologist about the best way to proceed. This may involve getting an archaeological permit to do some “mitigation” work so that some portion of the site can be explored before it is destroyed. In some rare instances, the sites may be so large, rare and/or important that all parties decide to preserve the site for posterity. Either way, it is in everyone’s best interest to know where a site’s boundaries are before land alteration happens.
There is no question that all landowners should have the right to know about the archaeological record on their property so they can plan accordingly both to protect the sites and minimize the cost of any projects they want to undertake. Landowners can find out if they have a registered site on their property by contacting us or the Provincial Archaeology Branch.
One of the goals of the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeological Project is to work with landowners to understand how best to be the stewards of archaeological heritage on their property. Of course, it is impossible for all of us completely avoid putting holes in the ground as we make our lives here – whether to put in a house foundation, dig an outhouse, or plant a garden. Still, it is often possible to shift our activities, even if only slightly, to help minimize the destruction of archaeological heritage. Oftentimes, all that is needed to avoid impacting sites is a small modification to the building plan or moving the building's footprint just a few meters. Most landowners would be happy not to impact a valuable heritage site if they knew it was present on their land in the first place. However, if impacting a site can’t be avoided, then we need to ask, “what do we want to learn about that history before it is destroyed forever?” Discussions about these difficult but important issues need to take place both one-on-one and as a community.
Are all archaeological sites protected by law?
In British Columbia, all sites older than 1846 are automatically protected under the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA). This is true whether or not they are registered in the provincial database. 1846 is the year the international border was established along the 49th parallel as part of the Oregon Treaty between the United Kingdom and The United States. In addition to sites known to be pre-1846 sites, all burials, isolates and clusters of stone tools, and rock art sites that cannot be easily dated are also automatically protected as they are assumed to be older than 1846. An Indigenous heritage site younger than 1846 is not protected. By not having a moving date for site protection (e.g., all sites become protected once they hit 75 years old), the law effectively cuts off Indigenous People from their own heritage. Many First Nation communities are unaware that they have been legally distinguished from their ancestors through the HCA as this was done unilaterally by the province.
Will my land be taken away if there is archaeological heritage on it?
There is absolutely no precedent in British Columbia of private land being taken away by First Nations because there is an archaeological site on it. Period. There are rare cases where First Nations have bought land that is particularly culturally important, or where land has been offered to First Nations by the landowner because it is an important location. There are also cases when the government has compensated the landowner so that destructive work does not continue. Unfortunately, most people have not heard about these latter instances because the government does not want to advertise that they stepped in to help compensate a landowner – for fear of setting a precedent.
From experience, and as we heard publicly at our Truth and Reconciliation potluck in August, what most Indigenous Peoples want is to be recognized and to be treated respectfully. They are mostly not interested in repossessing ancient belongings/artifacts that you may have come across over the years nor are they looking to repossess the lands of individual property owners. Many Indigenous Peoples are, however, interested in being welcomed onto their ancestral lands and re-connecting to places that they and their ancestors have lived on, used, and cared for over th.e past centuries and millennia
Will recognizing an archaeological site on private property increase the legal and/or ethical respsonsibility of a landowner?
It is important to know that many properties on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti, including that of my own land group, contain an archaeological site that is already recorded in a Provincial database held by the Archaeology Branch. In total, there are ~50 archaeological sites on Lasqueti recorded in this database, many of which are on private land. However, whether the site is recorded or not, and whether or not the landowner acknowledges or knows about the site, the law is clear: it is against the BC Heritage Act to “damage, desecrate, or alter” an archaeological site. Despite the clarity of the law, Indigenous heritage sites on our island and across BC are being destroyed all the time – by accident and knowingly.
Whether or not our provincial legislation is effective in protecting B.C.'s archaeological heritage, we as citizens have an ethical responsibility beyond the legal formalities. Collectively, we must believe that protecting Indigenous archaeological heritage – whether or not it has been recorded in the provincial database – is the right thing to do. Understanding the history of places such as Xwe’etay/Lasqueti preserved through the archaeological record enhances our appreciation for and connections to each other and the land on which we are privileged to live.
Will settler history be erased through the recognition of Indigenous heritage?
We have heard from settler families on Xwe’etay/Lasqueti that their parents and grandparents worked hard to be on the island and they want their own history recognized. This sentiment is not exclusive to Xwe'etay/Lasqueti, but is also prevalent among many settlers across Canada who have a deep connection to their lands and homes. There are perhaps several core beliefs that lead to this kind of statement, but one concern is that by recognizing Indigenous histories and connections to place, we will erase more recent histories of settlers. However, history has always been layered and complex; we benefit by understanding and acknowledging as many of those layers as we can. We as a community can honor and preserve both the Indigenous histories and the settler histories – neither should be ignored, devalued, or erased.
To be sure, it can be uncomfortable to recognize fears surrounding preservation of heritage sites – whether Indigenous or settler heritage. For some of us, this discomfort is mixed with feelings of shame about our settler history: acknowledging the genocide and cultural erasure of residential schools is a good example of this. For others, the discomfort springs from fears that we won't be able to achieve the dreams we have for ourselves and our children because of the costs and burdens of preserving the heritage of those who came before us. However, the only way to overcome these fears and move forward with meaningful reconciliation is to broach these hard topics head-on. Our hope in the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeology project is to create a safe forum where we can discuss these and other topics – with the goal of collectively figuring out ways to honor and protect the island’s diverse and deep heritage.