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Mary Frank-Everson can still recall her dread of the cardboard boxes her dad would bring home in the 1950s. He didn't dare open them, but he would speak to the bones they contained.

The chief of the K'omoks Indian Band from 1941 until his death in 1972, her father Andy Frank would periodically get a call from the military base at Goose Spit that another pile of human remains had been recovered from the band's traditional burial ground that was, unfortunately, located in a firing range.

"I was horrified, that's the way I was raised, we don't touch the dead once they have been interred," said Ms. Frank-Everson, 64. "It was a taboo."

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The contents would be listed on a receipt that came with the boxes, sometimes several skulls and a few other human bones.

"They would bring them in the front door, my dad would put his hand on the box, and say, 'I will bury you in the morning.' My dad would never open the box, that would have been disturbing them."

He would be up at dawn the next day to bury the boxes in another K'omoks graveyard, safely out of the way of the military works.

Mr. Frank is now buried in that same graveyard, but there are no markers to show where he placed the remains from Goose Spit.

Before European contact, the K'omoks used Goose Spit as a graveyard for their high-ranking members. Bodies would be buried in the ground or bound up in a fetal position and placed in boxes that would be positioned in the trees.

"It's a big part of who we are, those bones. When they were put away, in a tree burial or in the ground, they were meant to stay there and go back to the earth," Ms. Frank-Everson explained. "When they were disturbed, they disturbed the spiritual part of that person."

Goose Spit was designated an Indian reservation in 1876 but has been used as a military training ground since 1896.

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The federal government issued an order in 1900 permitting the navy to use the site as a firing range, provided that "the Indians should be given free access to the graveyard at all times."

Today, the federal and provincial governments have tabled a treaty settlement offer that would grant the K'omoks 2,036 hectares of land on the east coast of Vancouver Island, plus $17.5-million in cash.

The K'omoks negotiators are prepared to recommend the treaty to their members, but only if they are granted, as promised 110 years ago, free access to their ancestral burial ground on the other side of a now-permanent military base.

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