Ancient Nanaimo-area petroglyph accidentally destroyed by B.C. Hydro contractor

B.C. Hydro is working with Snuneymuxw First Nation to ensure a mistake that saw an ancient petroglyph near Nanaimo destroyed by heavy machinery is never repeated.

“We are going to make sure it never happens again,” said Donia Snow, Hydro executive director of aboriginal relations. “One of the pieces is to look at how we get another level of protection.”

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Some historic First Nations sites are not marked on all B.C. Hydro maps, although they are flagged centrally, because First Nations want to protect the areas from damage or vandalism, Snow said.

That practice is now under review to see if sites could be marked without revealing an exact location, she said.

The operator of a piece of heavy machinery contracted to B.C. Hydro wrecked the petroglyph, which has been registered provincially as an archaeological site since 1970, because he was not aware it was there.

A team from B.C. Hydro visited the site Sunday and met with the chief and council, Snow said.

Talks are now being held on improving the relationship between B.C. Hydro and First Nations, she said.

Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White said progress is being made with B.C. Hydro, but nothing can replace the petroglyph, a human-like figure and a wolf-like creature.

“It has been crushed,” he said. “It’s a heartbreaking incident for our people for the site to be damaged in this way. It is such a well-known site, it doesn’t make any sense for someone to drive a big tractor on it and grind it up.”

White said such sites should never be approached in a casual way. “It is not just positive energy there, it is also a space where there can be negative energy, so it can be a place of danger.

“Our elders want to make sure that the people who damaged it are safe and OK and that the people who live around there are safe and OK.”

White said there needs to be a better relationship between B.C. Hydro and First Nations throughout the province.

The petroglyph destruction prompted a blistering letter from the First Nations Leadership Council to B.C. Hydro.

“This is an affront to the dignity of First Nations and completely disrespects the cultural heritage of the Snuneymuxw First Nation,” says the letter, signed by seven native leaders.

“Ignorance of cultural sites, or the legislation and rules in place to protect them, is not a legitimate excuse and this type of irresponsible and completely reckless behaviour cannot be tolerated.”

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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