Natives' 'sacred' cave destroyed
Developers at Bear Mountain committing cultural genocide, aboriginal leaders 
      Louise Dickson and Bill Cleverley, with files from Jeff Rud 
      Times Colonist 

Thursday, November 16, 2006

            CREDIT: Darren Stone, Times Colonist 
            Cheryl Bryce, the Songhees First Nation land manager, inspects what 
is left of a cave that is held sacred by many lower Island aboriginal people. 
The cave is on private property on which a road will be built to access part of 
the Bear Mountain project and was excavated under the supervision of 
government, archeologists and native representatives. 
The provincial government and Bear Mountain developers are committing cultural 
genocide by destroying a cave on Skirt Mountain that is sacred to aboriginal 
people, the land manager of the Songhees First Nation charged yesterday.

As dump trucks roared in the background, Cheryl Bryce stood at the cave 
entrance, now clogged with tree stumps. A subterranean lake has been drained 
and filled with tires. Natural vegetation has been scraped off the top of the 

"This angers me. It really, really angers me," said Bryce. "At the same time, 
I'm really, really heartbroken and saddened to see this kind of destruction to 
this sacred land ... to me it's another form of cultural genocide to take away 
what is rightfully ours, to take away that connection we have to our spirits 
and our ancestors."

Bryce and Tsartlip Chief Chris Tom complained that First Nations were not 
consulted about archeological assessments of the site by companies hired by the 
City of Langford and by Bear Mountain Resort.

They said they were shocked to discover last week that the province approved 
removing the roof of the cave and draining the lake to complete the assessment.

"Their methodology is insane and horrific," said Bryce. "To damage a site to 
prove there might be some physical evidence -- We know we used it and how 
sacred it is. There's evidence all round this mountain of use and occupation."

Langford Mayor Stew Young said "There's been consultation [with First Nations] 
all along. They've been able to consult with the archeologists we hired. 
They've been with them every day. They've been allowed to have somebody on site 
every single day -- a representative from their band."

Young said he has done everything he promised.

"I wrote a letter to the chief and said 'if you have any problems let's go out 
for dinner.' I invited him out for dinner, three or four months ago. ... I had 
no response."

Bear Mountain project developer Les Bjola said the company has followed 
regulations to the letter.

"We've hired the two best archeological firms in the city of Victoria and we've 
been operating under the direct supervision of the ministry -- and I mean 
hands-on direct. We have done nothing that wasn't officially supervised and 
sanctioned by them."

Asked if First Nations representatives were on site, Bjola said, "We paid them 
to be there every day."

Bjola said the geologist and the safety officer both declared the cave unsafe. 
The roof was removed "because it was going to fall in anyway."

Justine Batten, director of the archeology branch in the Ministry of Tourism, 
Sports and Arts, said the Songhees "were consulted throughout the process." The 
ministry was in touch regularly with Songhees representative Norm Pearson, she 

Bryce said she met with members of the government's archeology branch who told 
her sacred sites are not accepted as archeological sites.

"They said they cannot protect sacred sites, they could only protect anything 
that shows physical evidence of occupation or use."

Batten said the cave will not be rebuilt.

For the first time, members of the media were taken to the cave yesterday. 
Bryce led the excursion up a steep path through forests of arbutus, Douglas fir 
and Garry oak to the damaged entrance.

"That was huge," said Bryce. "It's sacred enough we keep it a secret. We do not 
share this with people who do not have indigenous family rights to it. But 
right now, we need people to know and we need their support because this is not 

Even though it has been severely damaged, the cave is still a sacred site First 
Nations want to protect, she said.

At a morning press conference Tom called what has happened to the cave "a slap 
in the face to all First Nations."

All the chiefs and council will be called together to discuss what action they 
will take, he said.

Young noted the site is on private property. He said Langford had spent $30,000 
on the archeological efforts. Bear Mountain has spent well in excess of 

The land is adjacent to Bear Mountain Resort, but resort owner and former NHL 
player Len Barrie struck a deal with the owners to build the road through the 
forested land to provide a second access route to Bear Mountain.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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