Saturday night marked the end of a cultural disturbance that began eight years ago.
In 2006, sacred ground was uncovered when a BC Hydro team replacing aging powerlines in Hagwilget Village came across what was later identified as human remains that had not been buried recently.
The poles that were being replaced had been installed in 1959, said Hagwilget Village Chief Councillor Dora Wilson.
This weekend, a feast at Hagwilget Hall was held to cleanse the community after their ancestors’ remains were found and disturbed. It was not until 2010 that the remains were dealt with properly and relocated to be with other community members.
When the remains were found, work immediately stopped and Rick Budhwa from Crossroads Cultural Management and his team of anthropologists took over the site.
Budhwa said outside of his work on the dig site, he helped to ensure the relationship between BC Hydro and Hagwilget Village council remained positive.
Before BC Hydro’s work could continue, it was decided by the Hagwilget Village chief and councillors that the remains needed to be dealt with properly.
Community members reported terrible visions and nightmares they thought related back to the disturbed remains.
“The initial response was to just do archaeology and do an excavation,” Budhwa said in the documentary Sacred Ground: in honour and in memory of our ancestors.
“But we worked hard at illustrating that it was much more than that, that people were experiencing problems, psychological and social issues that exist in this community as a result of this situation. That doesn’t get picked up in an archaeological assessment. That only gets picked up when you study it as a bigger whole, as a cultural assessment of which archaeologically was one part.”
When the excavation finally began, more remains, projectile points and other artifacts were found almost immediately.
Five days in, the team discovered the remains of another individual who was mostly intact, which led them to believe this was an area that had not been disturbed previously.
The next day, planned to be the dig’s last, Budhwa found a cedar box and more complete remains—this time belonging to a child. The excavation was immediately stopped so the group could have a discussion with Hagwilget Village councillors.
It was ultimately decided to leave the undisturbed remains as they were.
The disturbed remains were buried at the Hagwilget Village cemetery.
BC Hydro has since apologized to the people of Hagwilget Village for disturbing the remains and for how they responded to the situation and for the delay in resolving the issue.
As another step toward reconciliation, last month, BC Hydro employees completed a cultural awareness workshop in Hagwilget Village before they set about the work replacing the power poles. For half a day, the workers heard from Budhwa and other community members about how the situation affected them.
BC Hydro officials also took part in Saturday’s feast, publicly apologizing and making a sizeable contribution to the community.
“This was important because it illustrates a new way of working with First Nations, whereby industry willingly participates in a workshop where they learn about the culture and people who are indigenous to that landscape,” Budwha said.
“Ever since the workshop, BC Hydro employees have been making culturally sensitive decisions on site, which is a direct result of the workshop. This really should be the new way industry engages with First Nations. I see no excuse for this not to happen in other communities with other projects.”
The documentary, Sacred Grounds: in honour and in memory of our ancestors, can be viewed at www.crossroadscrm.com.