Indigenous woman occupies Vallican heritage site in West Kootenay after province revokes her role as custodian – Keremeos Review
An Indigenous woman from the Slocan Valley takes the lead in the province and US-based Sinixt to care for a local historic site.
Two years ago, the government of British Columbia signed a memorandum of understanding with Marilyn James, authorizing her to be the custodian of an important archaeological site known as the Vallican site.
Sinixt residents of the Confederated Tribes of Colville in Washington State have challenged the agreement, saying they alone, not James, have the authority to enter into a contract with the province over the site.
Now the BC government has canceled its deal with James.
In an email to the Nelson Star, a spokesperson for British Columbia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport said May 18 that the Heritage Branch advised James that the memorandum of understanding would be terminated in 30 days.
“Indigenous engagement on the search for a replacement custodian for the site will be continued, to address concerns that a broad discussion of candidates had not taken place,” the email said. “The Heritage Directorate will continue to work to ensure the site is protected and does not fall into disrepair.
In 1987 the Ministry of Highways began construction of a new road to Vallican in the Slocan Valley. Construction was halted when numerous Sinixt artifacts, skeletal remains and pit depressions were discovered.
Since then, the Sinixt, including James, have repatriated and reinterred 64 ancestral remains at the site. James organized guided tours for school groups and the public and supervised other cultural activities, including the construction of a traditional pit house.
The Autonomous Sinixt, a West Kootenay organization centered around James, said in a June 30 news release that James occupied the site in response to the province’s cancellation of the agreement.
“As of June 8, 2022, James has moved to the Vallican site as part of (re)continuing occupation,” the press release reads, adding, “James says she has no intention of leave the Vallican camp and will continue to support her cultural responsibilities by maintaining her occupation and her role as guardian of the ancestors at the Valican heritage site.
The Confederate Tribes of Colville, in a July 6 news release, said they support the province’s revocation of the contract with James and said James does not represent the Sinixt.
“At no time did the Sn̓ ʕaýckstx name her ‘matriarch’ or any other kind of representative of our people, nor did we give her the responsibility of caring for our ancestors in Vallican,” Andy said. Joseph Jr., president of Sinixt. Confederacy and Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation. “Ms. James is representing herself and an unidentified group of non-Indigenous people, not the Sn̓ ʕaýckstx.
Joseph called James’ occupation of the Vallican site a “form of cultural appropriation”.