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“What We’ve Said Can be Proven in the Ground”: Stó:lō Sovereignty and Historical Narratives at Xá:ytem, 1990–2006

  • Madeline Rose Knickerbocker
Couverture de                Volume 24, numéro 1, 2013, p. 1-342, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association

Corps de l’article

In the fall of 1990, Gordon Mohs, a non-Indigenous archaeologist working for Stó:lō Tribal Council, drove up to a muddy development site on the outskirts of Mission, British Columbia. Noticing that bulldozers had ploughed up between three and nine feet of dirt, Mohs was concerned that the machines might have also excavated archaeological material. [1] Among the crew on the site that day was Stó:lō Cheam band member Link Douglas, who had stopped working when he noticed that his bulldozer was unearthing stone artifacts. [2] Both Douglas and Mohs felt certain that the future location of a 14-house subdivision was also a Stó:lō archaeological site. [3] Mohs was especially worried about what might happen to the large, lone stone sitting on the top of the hill. Agnes Kelly and other elders of local Stó:lō bands had been telling him since the late 1980s that stones like it were people who Xá:ls, the transformer figure in Stó:lō cosmology associated with the creator, had transformed into rock while setting the world right millennia ago. [4] Development had already destroyed other transformer stones in the Fraser Valley, so there was good reason to worry that yet another Stó:lō heritage site might be demolished. [5] Mohs explains what happened next:

I saw a surveyor there and I asked what was going on. And he said, ‘Well, I’m surveying here and we’re gonna blow up this rock.’ And I said, ‘Well, ok,’ and that was it. And I looked around a little bit and I said, I said ‘You can’t do that… this is an archaeological site.’ I saw it right away. There were literally thousands of artifacts, all over the surface. And I could tell, all right, that there were cobble choppers, and flake tools, and bi-faces; this, that and the other thing. And I said, ‘It is my belief that this is one of the stone people.’ And it was quite interesting because [that] did come out. [6]

This paper explores how the Stó:lō asserted their sovereignty at the site, Xá:ytem ytem (also sometimes called Hatzic Rock), through creative methods and with surprising results. I begin by examining scholarship on entanglements between nation and heritage, before discussing late twentieth-century Stó:lō political organization and expressions of sovereignty. Next, I argue that the Oka crisis provides a critical context for the activism at Xá:ytem, and then go on to consider the relations between Stó:lō, other Indigenous, and non-Indigenous peoples working to preserve Xá:ytem, as well as cross-cultural activism in late twentieth-century British Columbia. [7] Subsequently, I analyze how the eventual federal and provincial protection and recognition of Xá:ytem demonstrates both the success of the campaign to preserve the site and legitimizes settler colonial conceptions of heritage. I conclude by evaluating expressions of Stó:lō sovereignty at Xá:ytem in relation to the British Columbia Treaty process in 1993, and the province’s 2006 decision to grant the land at Xá:ytem to Stó:lō. [8] Examining Xá:ytem in these ways reveals the tactical hybridity demonstrated through Stó:lō collaboration with diverse volunteers, strategic cooperation with colonial governments, and consistent affirmation of the depth of their connection to the site, thus complicating existing understandings of Indigenous heritage and sovereignty in Canada during the 1990s.

Scholarship today recognizes that heritage sites are places where power is exerted through representation, as a common national identity is created through historical narrative. [9] In particular, Benedict Anderson’s seminal work shows that states can effectively use heritage sites to create a sense of community, of belonging within a nation. [10] In his study of Canada’s national historic parks and sites program, C.J. Taylor also identifies nation building as a major component in state-sponsored public heritage. [11] Homi Bhabha’s work has focused on the ambivalence Anderson identifies within the construction of national narratives; Bhabha argues that this ambivalence is clearly visible when the “cultural authority” is “caught, uncertainly, in the act of ‘composing’ its own image.” [12] I apply these ideas, which Bhabha mainly relates to literature and language, to Xá:ytem, where we see a dynamic tension emerge when two nations are simultaneously caught creating competing narratives at the same heritage site. [13] By working to protect Xá:ytem, Stó:lō activists reveal their own attempts to narrate their nationhood through historical and spiritual connections to territory, while federal and provincial recognition for the site aims to bring it into the fold of a Canadian narrative. As Bhabha writes, strategies of national narration can readily conflict in such a circumstance: “Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing boundaries — both actual and conceptual — disturb those ideological manoeuvres through which ‘imagined communities’ are given essentialist identities.” [14] In other words, with reference to Xá:ytem, the articulation of Stó:lō sovereignty through the discourse of heritage challenges both the colonial state’s appropriation of Indigenous lands and its narration of its own national sovereignty. Stó:lō protests at Xá:ytem reveal that these competing sovereignties in Canada are constituted by more than just claims to jurisdiction over land; the tensions extend to questions of whose heritage we value, and what can be included in, or must be excluded from, a common national heritage.

So while the campaign to preserve and commemorate Xá:ytem represents competing narratives of nation, its history also involves high degrees of cooperation and compromise. [15] Stó:lō achieved authority over the site through the adoption of a strategy of tactical hybridity with regards to their collaboration with other Indigenous people and non-Indigenous settlers, and through their work with federal and provincial governments. Paradoxically, by de-emphasizing their sovereignty, and foregrounding Xá:ytem’s connections to federal and provincial heritage, Stó:lō achieved their goal of preserving the site. Because the site was unknown to the colonial state, Stó:lō activists and their allies emphasized the site’s connections to a heritage that the state would know intimately — the one it constructed for itself. [16] Thus, Stó:lō activists working for cultural sovereignty sometimes accommodated, worked parallel to, or in tandem with, federal and provincial historical narratives about their territory, while simultaneously maintaining their autonomy and adopting strategies of resistance. Further, the participation of Stó:lō, other Indigenous people, non-Indigenous activists, and a wide range of state officials preclude the possibility of understanding activism at Xá:ytem as an issue of Natives-versus-newcomers. Ultimately, this story shows us that Stó:lō expressions of sovereignty at Xá:ytem were hybrid and complex discursive articulations, which cannot be discussed only in terms of essentialized identity politics or straightforward resistance to the state.

The considerable scholarship on Stó:lō and Coast Salish peoples can tell us much about how the imposition of colonialism changed their jurisdiction over their land. When used to refer to a group of people, the term “Stó:lō” is best understood as a supratribal collective identity, into which other community-based identities, such as those at the band and family level, can nest. People identifying as Stó:lō operated in what is now called the Fraser Valley for thousands of years prior to contact with explorers and settlers. Like other Indigenous communities in British Columbia, Stó:lō asserted authority over their territory from the time of early encounters with Xwelítem, “the hungry ones.” Regardless, British and later Canadian officials refused to negotiate treaties with them, and though reserves were established, these were subsequently dramatically reduced. Introduced diseases also affected Stó:lō communities, reducing population size considerably. Further, colonial policies made the practice of important political and cultural ceremonies illegal, and simultaneously prohibited Indigenous peoples from hiring legal representation. Stó:lō peoples resisted colonial power in a variety of meaningful ways, and continue to exercise their agency by doing so, but the expansion of settler colonialism significantly limited their autonomy and authority over their territories. [17]

Despite colonialism’s destructive legacy, Stó:lō have carefully curated their oral histories, many of which have survived intact to the present. Indeed, historical analyses often rely on two forms of Stó:lō historical knowledge: oral tradition — sxwóxwiyám, or myth age histories — and oral history — sqwelqwel, true news, or recent history. [18] Many sxwóxwiyám explain that the transformer Xá:ls came to this world and “set things right” when it was unformed and chaotic by changing some people into aspects of the landscape. [19] The stone at Xá:ytem is one of many throughout Stó:lō territory that manifest Xa:ls’ transformative power. [20] In 1991, Stó:lō elder Bertha Peters recalled the sxwóxwiyám of Xá:ytem, which a Shxwh’á:y elder told her years previous:

I heard this story from a man from Chilliwack Landing. When the Creator was walking this earth putting things right, he met three Chiefs at this place. He gave them knowledge of the written language to share with the people. But when he came back, he found they hadn’t done what he had instructed them to do, and so he threw them into a pile and changed them into that rock. [21]

Other Stó:lō elders Aggie Victor and James Louie shared information about the spiritual nature of Xá:ytem, supporting Peters’ knowledge of it as a transformer site. [22] The telling and re-telling of the sxwóxwiyám associated with Xá:ytem and other transformer sites is a powerful method that Stó:lō have used historically, and continue to use today, to affirm their connection to land and to explain their sovereignty over their territory. [23]

Figure 1

The transformer stone Xá:ytem.

Photo by author
The transformer stone Xá:ytem.

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While drawing from this deep past, this paper focuses on the late twentieth century, a period rarely covered by scholars writing about Stó:lō history. Though there had always been resistance to colonialism, Stó:lō political activists renewed their efforts in the wake of the 1969 White Paper. After more than a century of Stó:lō challenges to colonial settlement and the restriction of Indigenous rights, the chiefs of 24 bands signed the Stó:lō Declaration in 1975, affirming their inalienable right and title to their territory. [24] The following year, Stó:lō contested the government’s claim to the Coqualeetza grounds, the site of a former residential school in Sardis, British Columbia, and occupied the main building. The Canadian Armed Forces ended the Stó:lō occupation of the site by storming the building, and arresting 26 Stó:lō protestors, though all charges were later dropped. This incident pressured the Forces to relinquish the site, and subsequently, Stó:lō regained control of the Coqualeetza grounds. [25] Though neither the federal nor the provincial government acknowledged Stó:lō authority in the Fraser Valley, by the late twentieth century, Stó:lō people were pushing for it ever more assertively.

While Stó:lō activists often united in the face of colonial incursions, Stó:lō communities themselves have always experienced a healthy diversity of political opinion. Historically, Stó:lō political leadership fell to hereditary chiefs, elders, or those with special abilities. [26] Community consensus was also an important factor. [27] However with the introduction of the Indian Act in 1869, the federal government worked to replace this style of political organization with a system of elected councils that were to be the point of contact between Indigenous communities and Indian agents. [28] To secure at least some political voice, Stó:lō, like other Indigenous peoples, adopted the Department of Indian Affair’s model, and by 1980, two district councils had emerged, both dedicated to meeting the needs of Stó:lō people. Responding to the high degree of overlap that emerged as a result, Xweliqweltel, Grand Chief Steven Point (who went on to become British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor in 2007), proposed that the two Stó:lō political and service delivery organizations unite. [29] Though initially this idea had considerable traction, it was subsequently abandoned. [30] In oral history interviews, Grand Chief Doug Kelly, who had been a proponent of amalgamation, remembered significant fear that potential restructuring would lead to the loss of jobs, or that political differences would subsume the delivery of necessary community services. [31] Further, contemporary archival documents show that Stó:lō also disagreed over the allocation of funding, and perceived that amalgamation would support the interests of the federal government, not Stó:lō themselves. [32] As a result, in a dramatic election in 1985, a decisive split created two distinct entities: the Stó:lō Tribal Council (STC) and Stó:lō Nation Canada (SNC). Into the early 1990s, at the time of the campaign to preserve the Xá:ytem site, these two organizations were the main bodies representing Stó:lō bands and providing essential services. Stó:lō people had strong political representation in British Columbia, and while there was consensus on some issues, their voices were far from homogenous.

While Stó:lō political organization and jurisdiction over their territories has clearly changed over time, threads of continuity exist in Stó:lō definitions of sovereignty. According to Xwiyolemot, the late Tillie Gutierrez, in the early twentieth century Stó:lō leaders would begin meetings with the phrase “S’olh Temexw te ikw’elo. Xolhmet te mekw’stam it kwelat,” which means “this is our land and we have to take care of everything that belongs to us.” [33] This phrase, which appears to have faded from use during the middle of the century, featured prominently in Xwiyolemot’s memories during her conversations with Stó:lō cultural worker Naxaxalhts’i (Albert “Sonny” McHalsie). Seeking to honour Xwiyolemot’s priorities, Naxaxalhts’i worked with Stó:lō chiefs, and in particular, the Stó:lō Nation Aboriginal Rights and Title Department, to reincorporate this language in the 1990s. [34] In his discussion of this precept’s meaning, Naxaxalhts’i explained that Xwiyolemot taught him that the first part of the phrase represents a Stó:lō statement of rights and title, while the latter half emphasizes the responsibility to take care of the land and everything that this holistically encompasses, including animals, plants, mountains, rivers, language, cultural practices, and spiritual protocols. [35] The oral history shared by Xwiyolemot suggests that at least as far back as the early 1900s Stó:lō have understood their sovereignty as being not only about rights to land, but also especially about constituting their responsibility to care for it in numerous and expansive ways. This responsibility for the land, an idea which has a long history in Stó:lō communities, can help explain why, in the view of Grand Chief Clarence Pennier, although the STC and SNC are frequently at odds, they both maintain a common desire for “a resolution to the land question.” [36] These declarations from Xwiyolemot, Naxaxalhts’i, and Pennier show that while expressions of Stó:lō sovereignty have changed significantly over the course of the twentieth century, continuities also exist.

The Oka crisis also provides important context for the events at Xá:ytem. [37] The conflict between the Kanesatake Mohawk and the town of Oka, Québec, which dominated headlines across Canada, was also featured in Stó:lō newspapers. Deloris Charters reported in the 1 August 1990 issue of the Stó:lōNation News that a number of Stó:lō individuals had blockaded roads through their reserves to show their solidarity with the Mohawk. Evidently, members from Chawathil, Ohamil, Scowlitz, Skowkale, and Yakweakwioose bands set up road blocks, giving out information about their solidarity action and asking drivers to sign their petitions for the recognition of Indigenous rights and title. The roadblock at Yakweakwioose was the only one to entirely reroute traffic, turning away 300 cars, while the Ohamil roadblock stopped traffic on both sides of the Trans-Canada Highway to distribute 2,000 fliers. [38] The pamphlets demonstrate that Stó:lō solidarity with the Mohawk was closely tied to their own expressions of authority over their territory; for instance, the notices distributed by Ohamil band members stated,

For the recognition of Aboriginal title and rights we support the position taken by the Mohawks at Oka and Kahnawake … We want the federal government in particular, as well as the provincial government to ‘recognize and affirm’ our aboriginal and treaty rights. For too long, the governments have ignored our aboriginal title and rights to our traditional territories. [39]

Not only did a high degree of awareness about the conflict at Oka exist in Stó:lō communities, but additionally, for some Stó:lō activists, the Mohawk protest had ignited concerns about the state of their own sovereignty.

Stó:lō concerns about Indigenous sovereignty issues were thus already heightened even prior to the rediscovery of the Xá:ytem site and the imminent threat of its destruction. The resolution of the Oka crisis on 26 September 1990 predated Douglas’ and Mohs’ findings at Xá:ytem by only a few weeks. After temporarily stopping the bulldozers at Xá:ytem, STC staff contacted the landowner, Harry Utzig, to inform him about the archaeological evidence visible on the ground and their knowledge of the prevalence of transformer sites throughout Stó:lō territories. In an act of good faith, Utzig halted the construction until further studies could be conducted. With this reprieve from impending development at Xá:ytem, STC staff quickly began preparations for archaeological excavations. Mohs, in his capacity as STC archaeologist, reached out to colleagues Douglas Hudson at Fraser Valley College and David Pokotylo at the University of British Columbia for assistance. Beginning in earnest in the summer of 1991, these professors and their field school students dug at the site, alongside numerous Stó:lō band members and STC staff. [40] Excavated materials indicate that Xá:ytem was first occupied roughly 9,000 years ago, and while residential structures were not built until approximately 4,500 years later, after that point generations of Salishan people lived in them consistently. [41] These findings contribute significantly to our contemporary understandings of Coast Salish peoples’ dwellings and social organization prior to contact. [42] As STC chairman Clarence Pennier said at the time, the archaeological evidence demonstrates that Stó:lō had a “much more structured society than they gave us credit for.” [43] Excavation findings scientifically demonstrated the long history of Stó:lō-Coast Salish living at the site, enhancing Stó:lō claims to the site in ways that the sxwóxwiyám could not.

Stó:lō efforts to protect the heritage embedded in the Xá:ytem site were frequently entangled with their assertions of control over that part of their territory. During the excavations, so many locals and visitors watched the archaeologists work and listened to interpreters share the site’s sxwóxwiyám that by July 1991, Stó:lō were already hoping to build an interpretive center on the site. [44] On 17 July, Pennier explained to the press that the STC wanted to preserve Xá:ytem as a heritage park. [45] However, because not all Stó:lō agreed that this was the best way to protect the Xá:ytem stone and the site surrounding it, and since Stó:lō political representation was split between the STC and SNC, no immediate agreement emerged about the site’s management. What was certain, however, was that Stó:lō elders and political leaders were unanimous in their official support for the work being done at Xá:ytem. For instance, on 28 August 1991, members of the Coqualeetza Elders Group wrote an open letter in support of the preservation of the site, stating that “the Rock and the ancient settlement found here are extremely important aspects of our cultural and spiritual heritage.” [46] Additionally, one activist at Xá:ytem remembers that despite their political differences, the chiefs of these two groups, Ken Malloway for the SNC and Pennier on behalf of the STC, agreed on the cultural and historic significance of Xá:ytem to Stó:lō people and mutually supported efforts to protect the site. [47] Further, on 30 April 1992, Malloway and Pennier jointly wrote to the premier “on behalf of the Stó:lō people,” asserting their position that “the government must designate the Hatzic Rock as a heritage site.” [48] In that same year, the two chiefs established the Stó:lō Heritage Trust Society to ensure that, regardless of political differences, Stó:lō cultural heritage would be looked after by a collaborative board of hereditary chiefs, political leaders, and elders. [49] Additionally, within STC, workshops and interpretation at Xá:ytem fell under the purview of the Aboriginal Rights & Title department, indicating that at least the STC viewed their rights and title to extend to Xá:ytem. [50] These articulations reveal the interconnections between heritage and politics, and also functioned to assert Stó:lō authority over land.

Comparing Mohawk efforts to protect the Kanesatake graveyard and forest with the Stó:lō campaign to preserve Xá:ytem offers us valuable insight into parallel but divergent manifestations of Indigenous sovereignty at heritage sites. Though the stakes were different — the Mohawk had been working to preserve ancestral burial grounds, while Stó:lō were attempting to protect an archaeological and spiritual site — the plans for development were strikingly similar: in addition to the subdivision, part of the site at Xá:ytem was slated to become a golf course, as had been planned at Kanesatake. [51] Indeed, one Indigenous person involved at Xá:ytem told me that s/he believed conflict could potentially erupt at the site. [52] Utzig’s willingness to reach a compromise with Stó:lō, regardless of personal financial loss, contrasts sharply with the stubbornness of Oka mayor Jean Ouellette. In oral history interviews conducted in 2013, one Xá:ytem volunteer remembered Utzig as a businessman with a social conscience, while Mohs made similar statements, saying that Utzig “didn’t want to do anything to violate [Stó:lō] cultures and traditions.” [53] In addition to initially postponing the development of the site, Utzig also eventually donated money to Xá:ytem to build some of the interpretative infrastructure on the site. [54] Regardless of his later philanthropy, his cooperation with Stó:lō, as well the provincial and federal governments’ eventual decisions to protect the site, must be read in the context of a post-Oka Canada. The comparatively cordial relations between Stó:lō, Utzig, and government officials can at least be partly explained as a desire, perhaps among all parties, to avoid a confrontation similar to Oka.

Politics at Indigenous heritage sites are about sovereignty; Oka makes that very clear, and Xá:ytem does as well, in a different way. Although certainly disparate in terms of geography and on-the-ground particularities, Oka and Xá:ytem both demonstrate the passion and speed with which Indigenous communities responded to threats to their cultural heritage during the early 1990s. Comparing the two events shows us that in the 1990s, Indigenous communities used a diversity of tactics to respond to threats to their heritage. Although Stó:lō support for the Mohawk occupation had been strong, when they faced a similar threat to their heritage, they responded in a strikingly different way. The Oka crisis highlighted clear divisions between the state and Indigenous protestors, whereas activists at Xá:ytem chose to engage with the state and landowner, instead of adopting a direct action approach. As I go on to discuss, the complex and intermingled relations among groups of activists at Xá:ytem, as well as the compromise between Stó:lō and federal and provincial officials, provides us with an alternate example of how heritage and sovereignty could become entangled in the 1990s. So while certainly we should read Xá:ytem in the context of Oka, it can also be valuable to read Oka in comparison to Xá:ytem.

One dimension of the activist work at Xá:ytem that contributes to this reading is the involvement of not only the non-Indigenous archaeologists, but also the group of local Stó:lō, Indigenous, and non-Indigenous volunteers who formed the Friends of Hatzic Rock Society (FOHRS) to help preserve the site. In July 1991, Marion Robinson, a non-Indigenous woman and long-time Mission resident, went down to see the archaeological excavation at Xá:ytem. Robinson remembers that during her visit she felt drawn to both the heritage of the site and, in particular, to the transformer stone itself, and shortly thereafter committed to do whatever she could to stop development at the site. [55] She reached out to colleagues in local community organizations, including Linnea Battel, a member of the Cache Creek First Nation, and many of them responded by agreeing to work together on a campaign to preserve Xá:ytem. Organization of the FOHRS took off immediately, and the group incorporated as a society the next month. [56] Though many key members of the FOHRS were non-Indigenous or, like Battel, had other Indigenous heritage, Stó:lō people also played significant roles in the organization. Between 1991 and 1995, Pat Campo, Rose Charlie, Beverly Julian, Roy Mussell, Doris Peters, Yvonne Peters, and Albert Phillips all served as members of the board of the FOHRS. [57] The organization had diverse members with different forms of knowledge about Xá:ytem and, consequently, varied perspectives on how to protect and manage the site, though they agreed unanimously on the need for it to be preserved.

The extensive experience of many founding members of the FOHRS in various community councils in Mission and the Fraser Valley enhanced the organization’s capacity to run a successful preservation campaign. The FOHRS board recruited financial support through a newsletter; donors could pay a $10 fee to become members and the funds would go towards the society’s work. [58] They organized a benefit concert on 22 September 1991, and auctioned off items including an oil painting by acclaimed Canadian artist Toni Onley, donated by the artist to the cause. [59] Over the next few years, the FOHRS attracted growing numbers of supporters from across the province, doubling from 90 members in 1992, to 183 members two years later. [60] Their ultimate goal was to work with Stó:lō, particularly organizations such as the Coqualeetza Elders’ Group, to turn Xá:ytem into an outdoor museum. [61]

Perhaps the greatest success of the FOHRS was its media campaign. FOHRS board members used archaeological evidence to boost the media coverage of their joint attempt, with the SNC and STC, to save Xá:ytem. Articles about Xá:ytem appeared in local, national, and international newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, and the site was featured in magazines such as Canadian Geographic and Equinox Magazine, in televised news on CBC, CTV, and Global networks, and even an episode of Red Robinson’s Red’s Classic Theatre[62] Stó:lō and other Indigenous staff considered the archaeological findings to have confirmed the Xá:ytem sxwóxwiyám, and ultimately their claims to the land. As Battel put it, “what we’ve said can be proven in the ground.” [63] Though the conventions of oral tradition may have convinced a Stó:lō audience of the accuracy of the Xá:ytem sxwóxwiyám, the FOHRS members apparently knew that the general public would need more, and they ran a strong media campaign using the archaeological evidence as proof of the site’s significance. After all, in March 1991, only five months prior, Justice Allan McEachern released his now-infamous Delgamuukw judgment. Delgamuukw, a provincial court case ruling on the Gitskan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations’ claim of sovereignty over 58,000 square kilometres of their territory in northwestern British Columbia, found that oral traditions were not acceptable, but could be used to confirm “other admissible evidence.” [64] In other words, Indigenous oral histories were only admissible where they could be verified by other sources — presumably, scientific or scholarly works more understandable to non-Indigenous Canadians. This attitude was pervasive in the predominantly white community of Mission at the time; David Pokotylo recalls that while some residents were initially skeptical about the value of the Stó:lō site, after the archaeological evidence had been made public later in the summer, the same people enthusiastically asked the archaeologists questions about “their” site. [65] The emphasis on the archaeological evidence shows a consensus that the general public would not accept Indigenous spiritual knowledge unless it was legitimized by the apparently objective truth of archaeological science, as had been the case in McEachern’s ruling.

A major feature in the Xá:ytem media campaign was an emphasis on the site’s age, especially in relation to classical and biblical history. STC staff and spokespeople from the FOHRS often repeated the age of the site, offering comparisons to biblical stories or classical civilizations as a way of making the Xá:ytem archaeological evidence more translatable to the general public. [66] Mohs told journalists that the third dwelling at Xá:ytem was “the oldest dwelling ever found,” and Pokotylo compared it to “the world’s oldest civilizations.” [67] Press coverage featured similar phrases; for instance, one reporter editorialized that the house was “millennia older than Stonehenge (circa 1500 BC) and the Egyptian pyramids (earliest, circa 2500 BC).” [68] These comparisons provide helpful context, but the references to locations loaded with connotations of ‘civilization’ perhaps also indicate an attempt to implicitly enhance the value of pre-contact Stó:lō culture, which colonizers and settlers otherwise understood as ‘savage.’ Similarly, Robinson explained that Xá:ytem was “a village as old as the battle of Jericho,” [69] a conflict in the Old Testament Book of Joshua, reinforcing Mohs’ and Pokotylo’s emphasis that the site is on par with those of the earliest civilizations. [70] Drawing parallels between the Xá:ytem findings and an Old Testament story would have particular currency in the Fraser Valley, an area commonly referred to by British Columbians as part of the province’s ‘Bible Belt.’ Framing historical narratives about Xá:ytem by comparing it to classical or biblical sites helped the FOHRS media campaign raise awareness about the need to protect the site, and reveals a possible reluctance to consider Indigenous heritage sites as valuable on their own merits. At the same time, this discursive strategy highlights the hybridity of the campaign to save Xá:ytem, which blended Stó:lō oral tradition and expressions of sovereignty with some prevalent beliefs of colonial society. This ability to mingle aspects of Stó:lō and colonial culture is not only representative of the efforts to preserve the site, but also likely a key reason for the activists’ eventual success.

Another strategy used by Stó:lō and members of the FOHRS in their media campaign was emphasizing the site’s significance in the context of provincial or national heritage. During the same summer, another group in the interior of the province began a campaign to preserve the Kelowna home of W.A.C. Bennett, Social Credit (Socred) premier of British Columbia from 1952 to 1972. Both Mohs and Robinson frequently compared the houses unearthed at Xá:ytem to the Bennett home. [71] Members of the FOHRS board, including Robinson, Sharie Conroy, and Wendy Edelson, stated in interviews that part of their motivation for participating in the campaign to preserve Xá:ytem stemmed from a belief that it is an important part of the history of British Columbia specifically, and Canada more generally. [72] Robinson was particularly emphatic, saying that Xá:ytem needed to be preserved because it is “valuable not only to the [Stó:lō] people, but to telling the story of Canada.” [73] Stó:lō also took up this discourse, which shows the deployment of a tactical hybridity. Stó:lō politicians and the FOHRS realized they would need governmental funding to buy the land from Utzig, but it was not likely that they could secure those funds by emphasizing Stó:lō sovereignty over Xá:ytem. Rather, situating Xá:ytem within the context of Canadian historical narratives, as the FOHRS was already doing, would be a more likely method of eliciting federal approval, so Stó:lō adopted that strategy while simultaneously maintaining the position that the site had always been their land anyway.

Efforts of the FOHRS were again key in this aspect of the campaign, which now clearly directed its focus at convincing the federal and provincial governments of Xá:ytem’s historical value. Robinson encouraged visitors to contact their MLAs and MPs regarding the need to protect the site, and correspondence from FOHRS members to the board indicates that some of them did just that. [74] Relying on their political networks and experience in municipal service, the FOHRS board also reached out to politicians directly. During the summer of 1991 Stó:lō and the FOHRS were able to capitalize on the lead up to a provincial election. Two candidates for premier, New Democratic Party (NDP) hopeful Mike Harcourt and Socred incumbent Rita Johnson, visited the site as part of their election campaigns, and both promised that, if elected, they would protect the Xá:ytem stone. [75] In the weeks before the election, the Socred provincial government ordered that development of the property be delayed until an agreement about the land could be reached. [76] The FOHRS’ media blitz, while including information about the Stó:lō sxwóxwiyám and Stó:lō history in the area, did not include information about Stó:lō sovereignty at the site. Rather, they deployed a narrative that emphasized Xá:ytem’s significance to Canadian and British Columbian political history that helped them achieve their goals, at least for the interim. As with the comparisons between Xá:ytem and sites of Western ‘civilization,’ situating Xá:ytem in histories of Canada or British Columbia shows a perception among some that Xá:ytem could not be valued simply for what it indicated about Indigenous history, but rather for what it contributed to celebratory federal or provincial histories. Stó:lō and the FOHRS had agreed all along that Xá:ytem should be saved. However, the FOHRS members’ silence on the issue of Stó:lō sovereignty indicates that their desire to protect Xá:ytem and their understanding of its special place in Canadian history did not necessarily extend to a commitment to reinstating Stó:lō jurisdiction over their heritage and territory.

The collaborative working relationships between Stó:lō, the archaeologists, and the FOHRS in some ways conforms to a trend at other Indigenous sites in British Columbia in the 1980s. Scholars have written extensively about the anti-logging protests in Haida Gwaii, Clayoquot Sound, and the Stein Valley, movements where environmental activists and Indigenous people cooperated to arrest the destruction of the natural landscape. [77] These three concurrent protests are linked by their similar focus on environmental preservation, which activists at Xá:ytem never voiced as a concern for the site; rather, their concern was that the site’s heritage, either spiritual or archaeological, needed to be protected. While Xá:ytem was conceived of primarily in terms of heritage, the emphasis on the protection of the land at the earlier protests did encompass the preservation of important cultural and spiritual places. These included a significant spring on Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound, [78] village and burial sites throughout Haida Gwaii, [79] and monumental pictographs in the Stein Valley. [80] So while activists at Xá:ytem were focused on protecting the area for its heritage value, heritage concerns factored into environmentalism for protestors in Clayoquot Sound, Haida Gwaii, and the Stein. The common focus on protecting Indigenous cultural heritage demonstrates the extent to which activists understood that heritage was connected to the landscape. Indeed, the South Moresby Resource Management Planning Team’s report explicitly noted this connection in 1983, stating that the “fate of the Haida cultural heritage parallels the fate of the land.” [81] The success of these protests confirms Paul Tennant’s claim that the partnership between Indigenous land claims activists and environmentalists was a “critical new political development” in the province. [82] However, activism at Xá:ytem demonstrates that it was not only environmental and wilderness protection, but also cultural heritage preservation, which could rally large numbers of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, behind a common cause. Heritage had been an important, but secondary, feature of protests organized by Indigenous people and environmentalists in British Columbia in the 1980s, while at Xá:ytem one decade later, heritage emerged as the prime issue.

That many of these volunteers, students, and Mission locals were white demonstrates continuity in the trend Tennant recognizes of a dramatic increase in white support for and participation in Indigenous activist causes between the 1970s and 1990s. [83] The relationships forged between Stó:lō activists and white supporters is a significant part of the history of the campaign to protect Xá:ytem; the relative amicability of this three-way collaboration contributed, perhaps more than any other factor, to the eventual preservation of the site. David Pokotylo and Gregory Brass argue that the harmony among these diverse viewpoints was maintained because of each group’s strong commitment to preserving Xá:ytem. [84] They offer several examples that demonstrate the spirit of collaboration and cross-cultural openness at the site, including the wearing of red ochre used by Stó:lō for spiritual protection while digging, and the volunteers’ attendance at seasonal ceremonies called burnings. [85] Indeed, Conroy, the FOHRS volunteer coordinator, said that the best thing that came out of her work at Xá:ytem on a personal level was the long-lasting friendships that she developed with many of the Stó:lō board members. She described the closeness of her relationships with Julian and Campo, and recalled attending one another’s important family events and sharing homegrown produce. [86] The productive relationships that existed between many Stó:lō and white supporters of Xá:ytem, both on and off the site, contributed in no small part to the success of the campaign to save it. The participation of white people in the FOHRS is all the more important to recognize because, when correlated with the trend Tennant identifies, it reinforces scholarly knowledge of the growing desire among white people in the late twentieth century to move past the history of racial injustice in British Columbia.

While non-Indigenous volunteers and supporters contributed significantly to the campaign to save Xá:ytem, the cooperation did not mean that Stó:lō in any way abdicated their own responsibilities at the site. In the fall of 1991, several Stó:lō elders asserted their knowledge about the site at the Coqualeetza Elder’s Gathering on 18 September 1991. Here, Bertha Peters publically shared the sxwóxwiyám of the site, with Stó:lō elders Aggie Victor and James Louie providing supplementary information. Victor encouraged Stó:lō people to be thankful and listen to the rock, because “it’s a Great Spirit that’s been left behind for you children.” [87] Louie affirmed his knowledge of other places along the Fraser River where people had been turned to stone, and declared that it was good to “come to Xá:ytem to see this rock and this place here, where a long time ago the Indians used to live.” [88] These statements from Stó:lō elders directly contradict something that non-Indigenous supporters of Xá:ytem frequently repeated: that Mohs had “discovered” the site the previous fall. [89] While Mohs may have set the wheels in motion to save Xá:ytem, he was only in a position to do this because Agnes Kelly had already told him about the existence of rocks such as Xá:ytem, and because Peters knew the sxwóxwiyám of the Xá:ytem stone. However, the press had also reproduced the notion of Mohs’ “discovery” numerous times, as did Pokotylo and Brass when they wrote about it in 1997. [90] Not all non-Indigenous supporters credited Mohs; some, like Robinson, recognized that “the elders always knew” about the Xá:ytem stone. [91] Certainly Stó:lō and other Indigenous staff rejected language that gave Mohs credit for having “discovered” it. For example, McHalsie argued that saying Mohs discovered the site was like wiping out Peters’ knowledge of it. [92] Battel took a more moderate and reconciliatory position, and talked about how Mohs had “rediscovered” the site. [93] This phrasing acknowledges Mohs’ role in “discovering” and delaying the bulldozers at Xá:ytem in the fall of 1990, as well as his work to help excavate and protect the site thereafter, but maintains the Stó:lō understanding that their ancestors and elders always knew about Xá:ytem and its sxwóxwiyám. For Stó:lō who shared McHalsie’s and Battel’s views, though non-Indigenous archaeologists and volunteers had helped unearth the material evidence and publicize the findings, their efforts only proved what elders told those in attendance at the site for the 1991 gathering: Stó:lō connection to the site was profound, both spiritually and materially. This discursive discrepancy demonstrates that while the goal of preserving the site was commonly held by everyone working there, perspectives on even the recent history of the site were multiple and divergent.

Hybridity can facilitate cross-cultural understanding, but it can also open avenues for tension and conflict. Differences between Stó:lō and the FOHRS were sometimes accompanied by outright conflict over the management of Xá:ytem. Unlike contemporary media reports and the Pokotylo and Brass article, which emphasize conviviality and imply an absence of discord, [94] I found numerous points of tension between Stó:lōand members of the FOHRS. These include differing spiritual beliefs about the stone, disagreement over some of the secondary excavation practices, and concern about inaccurate retellings of the sxwóxwiyám.

First, friction arose around differences of interpretation about the spiritual aspects of the stone. Reflecting on the summer of 1991, one Indigenous person involved at Xá:ytem recalled that s/he was occasionally frustrated by members of the FOHRS board, who would give tours explaining the archaeology and the Stó:lō sxwóxwiyám, but also sometimes inject their own New Age spiritual beliefs about Xá:ytem into the tour. [95] While the Stó:lō sxwóxwiyám about the stone is well known, little has been written about the beliefs of many of the board of the FOHRS regarding their own spiritual relationships with Xá:ytem. [96] In oral history interviews, Robinson, the FOHRS vice-president, and Edelson, the FOHRS secretary, described the metaphysical experiences they had at “Hatzic Rock,” their preferred term for the site, which in no small part inspired their work there. [97] In an interview, I asked Edelson if she thought there was an intrinsic contradiction between her spiritual understandings of Hatzic Rock and the Stó:lō sxwóxwiyám. She replied that Stó:lō were free to believe as they liked about Hatzic Rock, just as she also had the freedom to hold her own beliefs about it. [98] In subsequent correspondence, Robinson also informed me that Stó:lō elders and FOHRS board members Campo and Julian, themselves spiritual leaders in their communities, welcomed the participation of some of their non-Indigenous fellow activists in spiritual work at Xá:ytem. [99] However, the same Indigenous critic referenced above told me that it was his/her opinion that the board members who developed and broadcasted these alternate spiritual understandings of the stone at Xá:ytem were engaging in a form of “cultural appropriation.” [100] While this perspective is valid, on the other hand, Keith Carlson’s work on spirit helpers offers an alternative that might reconcile these divergent spiritual understandings of the stone within a Stó:lō cosmology. In addition to the stories of Xa:ls’ transformations, Stó:lō also believe in spirit helpers, whose assistance to humans is individualistic. [101] However, there is no consensus among Stó:lō about whether these spirit helpers develop relationships with non-Indigenous people. Further, Carlson, the STC’s historian during the time, told me it was his understanding that for Stó:lō people wanting to preserve the primacy of the connection between the stone at Xá:ytem and its sxwóxwiyám, especially for the sake of maintaining their assertion of sovereignty over the site, the New Age spiritual understandings appropriated the Stó:lō concept of spirit helpers. [102]

Disagreement also existed regarding whether the interpreters should encourage visitors to the site, particularly young students, to sift through soil that the bulldozers had cleared before development stopped. McHalsie, who was involved at Xá:ytem through the STC, emphatically stated that allowing anyone, especially children, to sift through archaeological material should be prohibited, because if they turned up pieces of human bone or other remains, they could potentially be exposed to harmful interaction with the spirits of the deceased. [103] In contrast, Robinson felt that sifting through soil became one of the most affective experiences of many people during their visit to Xá:ytem. “There’s some magic stories about who found what when,” she said, “and it made it come alive for the kids.” [104] The divergence between respect for Stó:lō spiritual protocols on the one hand, and on the other, a desire to maximize visitor enjoyment at the site demonstrates again the discrepancy between Stó:lō and FOHRS members’ conceptualizations of Xá:ytem.

A third problem McHalsie identified was the lack of attention some volunteers paid to careful retelling of the sxwóxwiyám; McHalsie was shocked by the variations in the story or deviations in important details. He explained that “somehow it got shifted,” and the sxwóxwiyám was told in the “total opposite” way from Peters’ telling of it in 1991. [105] Accurately preserving sxwóxwiyám is a cornerstone of Stó:lō oral tradition, so imprecise retellings of the story would have, from a Stó:lōperspective, undermined its credibility. Even though the FOHRS members had good intentions regarding their work at Xá:ytem, their disagreements with STC staff not only challenge previous conceptions of the harmony that existed onsite, but also demonstrate the difficulties of cross-cultural activism. Further, the discord about spiritual matters demonstrates that some of the FOHRS members did not discern the link between that spirituality and Stó:lō connections to the land, resources, and right to have authority over the governance of the same.

Problems such as these meant that while Stó:lō could acknowledge the benefits of their partnership with the FOHRS, it also made them question the collaboration. Mohs described a meeting he had with the Coqualeetza Elders Group that demonstrates not all Stó:lō elders appreciated the work at Xá:ytem:

I was called in to one meeting by some of the elders, and all of the elders were there, they had had the Coqualeetza Elders’ group, and there was about 40 of them that day. And I was told to sit at one end of the table and just be quiet and listen, not to say anything. And so then a group of elders talked about the fact of how these places were sacred to the Stó:lō people, and should only be for the Stó:lō people. And it was interesting to listen to that. I was — they were quite angry at me for doing what I was doing … There was a moment of, it seemed like forever, ok, but it was probably only about a minute where there was total silence, and then one of the elders from Skowkale, Wilfred Charlie, said ‘I like the work that Gordon’s doing. And he really should keep doing it.’ And then Josephine Kelly spoke up next, and she was from Soowahlie, and she said ‘we have to tell the world about these places’ ok, you know. And there were a lot who started saying things like that, ‘We have to tell the world about these places otherwise they’ll be destroyed anyway.’ They went around the table and all of them spoke, and by the time it was over, there was only two that were in opposition. But the other 38 were in favour of me continuing to do the work. So I had great, great, support from a lot of people. [106]

This incident demonstrates that not only were Stó:lō elders divided on the issue of how the archaeological work was being carried out at Xá:ytem, they disagreed about whether the site should be operated and cared for by Stó:lō themselves, not their supporters. Though apparently the Coqualeetza Elders eventually agreed that Mohs and his archaeological teams should continue their excavations, it is clear that some of them felt that the sacredness of Xá:ytem meant it should be kept a private site, accessible only to Stó:lō. The elders’ declarations during their conversation with Mohs affirmed Stó:lō sovereignty over Xá:ytem, and also serve to reveal the clear divergences between those who wanted to save the site.

For instance, members of the FOHRS certainly would not have agreed with the idea that Xá:ytem be made a private site; their prerogative, that the site serve to publicly discuss not only Stó:lō history, but also to connect that past to Canada’s national heritage, would be distinctly at odds with this potential manifestation of Stó:lō jurisdiction over Xá:ytem. The FOHRS’ significant contributions to the campaign to preserve Xá:ytem were successful; however, after the site was recognized by federal and provincial governments, the FOHRS’ role there was increasingly limited as Stó:lō worked instead with official heritage officers to manage it. Eventually, the FOHRS felt so left out of decision-making at Xá:ytem that they voted to dissolve the society on 27 May 1995. [107] After putting years of volunteer labour (estimated at 40,000 hours) into a cause they genuinely cared passionately about, the FOHRS board wanted to have a say in how the Stó:lō heritage site should be run, while the Stó:lō wanted to preserve their perspectives above all others. [108] Thus, primarily Indigenous people would be considered for employment at the site. In a newspaper article about the dissolution of the FOHRS, Robinson was quoted as saying that the organization decided to separate themselves from “a group that makes decisions based on race.” [109] In the course of interviews and conversations for this research, I learned how this decision was challenging for many members of the board of the FOHRS to accept, especially after working so closely for so long to preserve the site. Though initially diverse motivations had propelled many people to participate in the campaign and work towards a common goal, after they achieved their aim, those differences that had initially been part of their strength now precluded a shared vision for its future. In this respect, Xá:ytem reminds us that despite the positive outcomes of cross-cultural activism in late twentieth-century British Columbia, discord could also run along racial lines.

Despite these sometimes-uneasy relations between Stó:lō and non-Indigenous activists, their combined efforts succeeded in securing both federal and provincial designation as a heritage site. Federal recognition came first, in 1992, from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC), which designated Xá:ytem a national historic site. The HSMBC had been created in 1919, and as David Neufeld tells us, since then had generally recognized sites that emphasized a certain type of Canadian identity, which did not include Indigenous peoples. In particular, Neufeld notes that from the postwar years to the 1990s, recognition of Indigenous heritage sites was limited to the importance of the site from the perspective of settler colonial history. [110] It comes as no surprise then that although they were willing to designate the site as an important place in Canadian history, Parks Canada officials did not recognize Stó:lō peoples’ assertions of their sovereignty at the site. Federal reluctance crystallized during the negotiations over signage at Xá:ytem. STC staff McHalsie and Carlson worked with David Smythe and Frieda Klippenstein of Parks Canada to draft the text for the plaque, which would be in English, French, and Halq’eméylem. [111] Draft versions from Stó:lō elders included the phrase introduced above, “This is our land. We have to take care of everything that belongs to us.” Parks Canada staff rejected this addition, arguing that such a statement would be too political. In a 2006 interview, Carlson explained that Parks Canada officials thought the phrase would restrict the capacity of non-Indigenous people to develop an interest in what was now considered a national site. [112] This circumstance bears out Glen Coulthard’s argument that, contrary to much liberal discourse, federal recognition of Indigenous sites reproduces “the very configurations of colonial power that Indigenous peoples’ demands have historically sought to transcend.” [113] In other words, the politics of recognition are problematic because Indigenous peoples are cast in the role of supplicants who must prove to the benevolent government why a particular place is significant enough to merit recognition. Coulthard helps us see how national recognition of Xá:ytem could not fundamentally alter the relationships of power between Stó:lō and the federal government at the site, and indeed represents a governmental attempt to reaffirm Stó:lō as “Indigenous subjects of empire.” [114] In the end, though the Stó:lō sovereignist phrase does not appear in the English or French translations on the plaque, it is in the Halq’eméylem text. [115] During the interview, Carlson guessed that probably Parks Canada officials were unaware of its inclusion in Halq’eméylem. [116] Either way, it means that people who read Halq’eméylem are provided with text that interprets Xá:ytem within the context of Stó:lō sovereignty, but visitors who only read English or French are not. Further, both visually and textually, the Halq’eméylem translation is rendered inferior to the English and French versions; it is at the bottom of the plaque, and is roughly half the length of both other translations. Recognition of Stó:lō sovereignty at Xá:ytem-as-national-site, then, is under-emphasized aesthetically, and is linguistically limited to a small group of people who read Halq’eméylem, a circumstance that simultaneously preserves and obscures Stó:lō sovereignty. [117]

Figure 2

Parks Canada plaque at Xá:ytem. The sxwóxwiyám is presented first in English, then French, and lastly in Halq’eméylem.

Photo by author
Parks Canada plaque at Xá:ytem. The sxwóxwiyám is presented first in English, then French, and lastly in Halq’eméylem.

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The federalist message of the Xá:ytem plaque, at least in Canada’s two official languages, speaks volumes about the political climate of the 1990s. In June 1990, Cree NDP Member Elijah Harper’s steadfast refusal to approve the motion to debate the Meech Lake Accord in the Manitoba legislature reflected the frustrations held by many Indigenous peoples across Canada that their rights and status continued to be denied by the Canadian government. Two years later, the Charlottetown Accord, drafted with the assistance of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, and the Métis National Council, swung the other way by promising to grant self-government to Indigenous peoples, but the Canadian public blocked the accord in provincial and federal referendums. The incorporation of Indigenous rights into the Charlottetown Accord indicates the federal government’s eagerness, in the wake of both the failure of Meech Lake and the conflict during the Oka crisis, to entice Indigenous people to embrace a position within the Canadian constitutional framework by promising them extended but still limited powers in governance at the band level. Stó:lō and STC staff working on the plaque were not strangers to the issue of constitutional reform; in fact, it had been actively debated by Stó:lō throughout the previous decade. For example, Stó:lō newsletters regularly featured articles on how contemporary issues such as debates on Section 37, or the patriation of the constitution, would affect Indigenous rights and title in Canada. [118] Twice in 1982, Stó:lō organized think tank workshops to share information and discuss possible political strategies for the constitution and land claims issues. [119] Stó:lō continued to pay attention to constitutional matters after the failure of the accords; articles from that period focused on the possible ramifications that federal constitutional debates might have for their own political sovereignty. [120] Stó:lō familiarity with Canadian constitutional issues heightens the power of the Halq’eméylem text on the Xá:ytem plaque, signifying the competing sovereignties at play between the two nations. Simultaneously, Stó:lō, out of necessity, publicly situated Xá:ytem within the context of celebratory narratives of the history of Canada.

With federal recognition for Xá:ytem achieved, Stó:lō still awaited a response from the province. The issue of competing authority over archaeology sites in Stó:lō territory went beyond the Xá:ytem site. It arose more broadly in February 1993, when Pennier, then chief of the STC, wrote to Darlene Marzari, the Minister of Tourism and Culture, after learning that employees of the provincial Archaeology Branch were doing research in Stó:lō territory without Stó:lō authorization. Pennier informed Marzari that in the future, these workers should seek approval and a Heritage Investigations Permit from the STC, or they would be shut down. He told her that “anyone attempting to do research in our traditional territories without our knowledge and/or without a Stó:lō Heritage Investigations Permit will be demonstrating a blatant disregard for our political leadership and the will of our people.” [121] Marzari responded by saying that though they did encourage this practice, the Archaeology Branch could not require researchers to take out Stó:lō permits. [122] Pennier’s letter, and his insistence that archaeologists receive Stó:lō authorization to conduct research, shows that Stó:lō politicians felt they should have a degree of control over research into Stó:lō cultural heritage in their own territory. Although polite, Marzari’s bureaucratic response disregards the central point of Pennier’s argument that the province must respect, recognize, and contend with Stó:lō sovereignty. This exchange showcases the level of opposition between Stó:lō and provincial sovereignties.

Later in 1993, the province concluded negotiations with Utzig, the landowner, and acquired the title for Xá:ytem, reinforcing provincial control over it. On 8 April, Premier Mike Harcourt and other provincial delegates travelled to Mission to celebrate their acquisition of Xá:ytem. The day opened with a blessing from Joe Page and a prayer from Stó:lō elder Nancy Phillips. These were followed by a speech from Pennier, who reminded everyone of the years of hard work that had gone into securing the future of Xá:ytem. As he thanked many of the key players, he apologized for the briefness of his remarks, and said there would be a separate “traditional” blessing of the site at a later date. [123] Pennier made no explicit mention of the nature of Stó:lō sovereignty over the site, except to say that he was grateful the elders had made everyone aware of its nature as a spiritual place. Stó:lō elder Aggie Victor also spoke, explaining that the transformer stone contained the shxweli (the spirit) of the rock, and encouraged everyone to relate to it in a sensory way: by listening, talking, praying to, or looking at the transformer stone. [124] The comments of Pennier and Victor demonstrate again that expressions of Stó:lō sovereignty at Xá:ytem were predicated on a concern for not only the land itself, but also the spiritual integrity of the site.

After these remarks, Harcourt took the podium. He called the province’s acquisition of the site a “remarkable opportunity for all of us British Columbians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to start the transformation that has been too long coming,” and told listeners that the acquisition symbolized the Province of British Columbia’s desire “to respect and to recognize and to protect this extraordinary part of the planet.” [125] Following Harcourt, Marzari also gave a speech. Marzari’s comments drew parallels between the historic uses of the site and its contemporary social meanings. The site, she declared, “has been a meeting place for healing for many thousands of years. What makes it so special today is that it has become a meeting place of cultures, where non-Indigenous culture can be enriched by the true traditions and the true meaning of the long period of history, pre-European history, that is with us and is part of British Columbia.” [126] These remarks from Harcourt and Marzari demonstrate the province’s construction of a narrative that sublimated the history of Xá:ytem into that of British Columbia, where the uniqueness of the former reinforced the exceptional nature of the latter. Their recognition of Xá:ytem glossed over the historical reasons that title for the site had to be purchased from Utzig at all. The provincial delegates engaged in a project of discursive and intellectual slippage that was necessary to allow them first to appropriate the history of the site into the history of the province, and then to simultaneously ignore the provincial history of colonialism that had removed the site from Stó:lō control in the first place. At the same time, Stó:lō still did not hold fee simple title to the land, indicating that the ongoing violation of their claim to Xá:ytem was both discursive and material. This political maneuvering was nothing new, however. Tennant described the same power dynamics at work in negotiations between Indigenous activists and government officials in the 1980s. Regarding the conclusion of the South Moresby protests, he writes that eventually provincial and federal bureaucrats “did, however, allow a victory of sorts to the Haida by agreeing that the southern portion of the Queen Charlotte Islands would become a national park.” [127] This phrasing captures exactly the spirit of the province’s acquisition of Xá:ytem: a half-hearted victory for Stó:lō, undercut by the government’s ongoing discursive and physical appropriation of their traditional territory. The province could appease protesters, but still sidestep the issue of Stó:lō claim to the land, and re-assert the provincial and national authority over the site all with the same decision.

After the province acquired Xá:ytem, site management initially shifted to a three-way partnership between Stó:lō Nation (SN), the FOHRS, and the Heritage Branch of the provincial government. [128] However, as discussed above, once SN staff and Heritage Branch officials began working together, the FOHRS felt cut out, and it was at this moment that the organization voted to disband. Going forward, SN continued to support the development of Xá:ytem along Stó:lō lines. For instance, on 26 October 1994, Pennier, as executive director of the Aboriginal Title and Rights department, dedicated $8,790 of in-kind work to Xá:ytem and affirmed that Stó:lō leadership was “committed to ensuring that this important site is preserved for future generations.” [129] Two years later, members of the Coqualeetza Elders Group visited the site, reporting that it was “like a dream come true,” implying that concerns they had had about the work at Xá:ytem in the early 1990s were now gone. [130] Their approval may have influenced Stó:lō chiefs to again officially endorse the work at Xá:ytem on 3 October 1996. [131] That same month, the Xá:ytem Siyá:ye Society was founded to fill some of the gaps left by the dissolution of the FOHRS, including fundraising and publicity. [132] Regardless of the new arrangement with the province or the dissolution of the FOHRS, Stó:lō connections to Xá:ytem remained strong going into the mid-1990s.

While it appears that Stó:lō were thus content with the new arrangement, the co-management model bears scrutiny in the context of this discussion of sovereignty. Co-management at Xá:ytem meant that the Xá:ytem Siyá:ye Society had reaffirmed that the site would be discussed within the context of provincial heritage. [133] Beyond that, it meant that the series of compromises that Stó:lō had to make with federal and provincial authorities to save Xá:ytem would be continued in its future management. Additionally, the province still held title to the land. On one level, this situation accords, to some extent, with the aphorism that “this is our land and we have to take care of everything that belongs to us,” because Stó:lō were participating in the curation of the site. However, McHalsie’s reading of the statement implies that Stó:lō sovereignty must go even further than this simple translation indicates. “It’s something that’s ours that can’t be touched by anyone else,” he explains: “We have to take care of it. Because nobody else can.” [134] McHalsie here argues for exclusive Stó:lō curation of their own heritage, which certainly was not represented in the co-management arrangement, where Stó:lō authority only went as far as the provincial authorities would allow. Such a circumstance perpetuates provincial control over Xá:ytem, rather than allowing for Stó:lō to experience and exercise their sovereignty at the site.

Reading activism at Xá:ytem alongside the protests at Clayoquot Sound, Haida Gwaii, and the Stein Valley introduced above reveals a pattern in the ability of colonial governments to limit the actual manifestation of assertions of Indigenous sovereignty in late-twentieth-century Canada. Indigenous people and their allies protest because they recognize that the environment is fundamentally connected to Indigenous cultural survival. The responses of colonial governments are inadequate because they consistently fail to recognize pre-existing Indigenous title and sovereignty, and, consequently, appropriate that land from Indigenous people. Indigenous testimony cannot convince governments that activist claims are legitimate, but Western ‘objective’ science can. Ostensibly in the spirit of compromising with Indigenous peoples, governments proceed to re-assert their control over the land in question by designating it a protected site that is part of the national or provincial system. Finally, in another show of their authority over the land, the government offers Indigenous nations the option to co-manage their own territory. Sites that have gone through this process have thus been triply colonized: first by physical appropriation of lands; then by discourses privileging colonial claims and scientific research over Indigenous rights and knowledge; and finally by the establishment of systems that require Indigenous peoples to assent to the first two steps prior to gaining any measure of control over their territories. This trifecta of physical, discursive, and governmental colonization of Indigenous spaces was an effective strategy for maintaining the status quo during the tumultuous years of protest in British Columbia from the 1980s to the 1990s. Though this pattern allowed the provincial government to sidestep Indigenous peoples’ assertions of authority over their lands and heritage, it could not extinguish their claims to their heritage or sovereignty.

One final event in the history of Xá:ytem must also be considered: the return of title of the land by the British Columbia government to the Stó:lō in 2006. At a ceremony on 21 October of that year, Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Michael de Jong officially transferred the land from the province to the Stó:lō Heritage Trust Society. In addition to Pennier and Battel, other guests of honour at the event were then-Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo and her soon-to-be-successor, Xweliqweltel. [135] The 13-year gap between the provincial government’s acquisition of the Xá:ytem site in 1993 and their eventual decision to grant the title for it to the Stó:lō Heritage Trust Society in 2006 indicates a deep reluctance to acknowledge, let alone make reparations for, colonial impositions on Stó:lō sovereignty. [136] The decision to return title to the Stó:lō was made by the province, but likely with attention paid to other events: 21 Stó:lō bands had entered the British Columbia Treaty Process in August 1995, having unified the STC and SNC into one organization, Stó:lō Nation Society a year previous. After a decade of unity, during which time the Stó:lō Nation Society negotiated for treaties with the province, divisions emerged again and a new Stó:lō Tribal Council, frustrated with the treaty process, split off in 2005. Seven member bands of the new Stó:lō Nation Society remained in the treaty process, including Leq’a:mel, the band geographically closest to Xá:ytem. In the meantime, other First Nations in British Columbia had successfully negotiated their treaties, and Stó:lō Nation Society’s claim was at an advanced stage in the process. On 2 May 2006, half a year before the ceremony at Xá:ytem, the BC Treaty Commission accepted the Stó:lō Nation Society’s amended statement of interest. By then, it was already becoming clear that Stó:lō and the government were getting closer to an agreement; the transfer of title from the province to the Stó:lō at this ceremony merely sped up part of a process that would likely happen in the near future. The irony of the confluence of events is inescapable: a celebration is held when a colonial agent occupying an office allegedly symbolizing Indigenous rights returns title for an indisputably Stó:lō heritage site, on unceded territory currently claimed in the treaty process, to the Stó:lō community. As Robin Boast and Julia Harrison have shown can be the case in museums, this example of the management of an Indigenous heritage site represents a manifestation of neocolonialism, where the institutional expression of inclusivity serves to maintain a good public image, while simultaneously continuing to perpetuate colonial power imbalances. [137]

Examining Xá:ytem enhances our understandings of the complexity of Indigenous expressions of sovereignty over heritage in the 1990s. For Stó:lō claims to hold any traction with the provincial and federal governments, they needed to work within Canadian political structures, and thus find alternative ways of fighting for their sovereignty over the site. By situating their authority within historical narratives understandable to colonial governments, Stó:lō indicated that their assertions of jurisdiction at Xá:ytem posed no undue threat to those systems. Thus, the efforts to save Xá:ytem show us the deep entanglements between notions of what constitutes national heritage. At the same time, this study reveals the benefits and the risks of tactical hybridity, as Stó:lō worked alongside their allies and government officials to simultaneously assert and de-emphasize their sovereignty at Xá:ytem in a counterintuitive but ultimately successful campaign to preserve the site. Though it took more than 15 years, eventually Stó:lō did acquire sole authority over Xá:ytem. Their efforts to do so represent a novel configuration of Indigenous sovereignty in Canada, which includes significant collaboration with diverse activists, wary cooperation with the state, and the careful maintenance of their own autonomy.

In addition to helping expand our understandings of Indigenous-settler historiography, interrogating expressions of Indigenous sovereignty has significant real world implications. Debates over sovereignty are ongoing, spurring current political movements such as Idle No More, and the surging interest in allyship among non-Indigenous peoples. Further, historical analyses of Indigenous sovereignty may also affect the future of Indigenous-settler relations in this country, as both the British Columbia Treaty Process and ongoing Aboriginal case law in Canada continue to shape Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples’ rights to land. [138] In this context, historical expertise is increasingly valued by a legal system that relies on their interpretations of the past to make decisions that affect Indigenous rights and title in Canada today. [139] Perhaps these contemporary political realities, and the rich historiographical possibilities that await us, will galvanize us to reconsider the stories we tell about sovereignty in Canada.

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