On April 10, 2017, the Sumas First Nation and the province of British Columbia reached an agreement to negotiate certain unresolved issues surrounding ancient Sumas burial lands located near Sumas Mountain in Abbotsford.
The Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) commits the Province to work jointly with the Sumas First Nation on a government-to-government (“G2G”) basis, under the auspices of the existing Stó:lō Strategic Engagement Agreement (“SSEA”). The intent of the MOU is to frame future discussions and to develop recommendations regarding the Lightning Rock Site.
Lightning Rock and its surrounding area have been sacred to the Stó:lō people for centuries. The site is located within the City of Abbotsford at the base of Sumas Mountain. The area has been home to the people of the Sumas First Nation for 10,000 years, and represents a spiritual centre with a rich oral history.
When European explorers and settlers first arrived in the area in the 18th century, the concurrent arrival of the smallpox epidemic wiped out approximately 80 per cent of the Sumas population, leaving the remaining people to bury their friends and family members in this sacred area. Archaeological findings have verified up to 40 burial mounds and identified a need for further exploration and study.
Despite this, for many decades, the land has been bought and sold and threatened by development.
Most recently, in 2014, Abbotsford city council voted down an application by Cold Water Ranch (2011) Ltd. (the “Company”) to develop the site. Despite having done their due diligence during the purchase, the Sumas First Nation claim was not brought to their attention – underlying the lack of any proper designation associated site’s historical and spiritual value. The Sumas First Nation approached the Province last year to ask that these lands and traditional burial grounds protected from further threats.
“Over my lifetime, this sacred place that contains the graves and the spirits of our people, has been bought and sold four times,” said Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation. “I’ve gone out myself several times to stop the desecration of this sacred place, including nearly being arrested once for blocking bulldozers that were starting to clear a road right through there.”
“Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that never happens again. On behalf of the Sumas First Nation, I want to sincerely thank Minister John Rustad and everyone in the ministry for helping us find a truly positive and reconciliatory path forward on this critical issue for the spiritual and cultural wellbeing of our people,” Chief Silver concluded. “So rarely have First Nations felt that someone was listening to them, or honouring our spiritual beliefs. Today, I feel that strongly, and an enormous credit is due to them.”
Today, the Company is also fully supportive of the process that this MOU will initiate, and has committed to working with Sumas First Nation on reaching a respectful conclusion.
The Gowling WLG Indigenous Law Group represented Sumas First Nation in the negotiation of the MOU with a team that included Scott Smith, Paul Seaman, and Leah George-Wilson.
Minister John Rustad and Chief Dalton Silver of the Sumas First Nation