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Musqueam propose land swap to protect Marpole midden

An artist's drawing of interpretive park with Musqueam gate

The Musqueam Indian band has proposed a new gateway to Vancouver at the north end of the Arthur Laing Bridge as part of a plan to protect their ancestral burial grounds in exchange for approval of towers elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.

In an open letter to Premier Christy Clark and Mayor Gregor Robertson, Musqueam Chief Ernest Campbell on Thursday urged the two levels of governments to halt construction of a five-storey condominium on Southwest Marine Drive and work with the first nation to acquire the site and adjacent properties.

The Musqueam are willing to contribute land worth several million dollars that they are to receive in compensation for claims related to the South Fraser Perimeter Road and Evergreen transit line to facilitate the arrangement, the letter says. They would also pay some of the costs associated with the project.

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As an incentive to the property owners, the city could allow density from the site to be transferred to property along the new transportation corridors, where density is needed, Chief Campbell stated. The owners could also be offered city or provincial land, he said.

The condominium development is on a portion of a larger stretch of land known as the Marpole midden that has been recognized as a Canada Heritage site. The Metro Theatre, the Fraser Arms Hotel and beer store, car dealerships and other businesses are now on land that was once a first nations burial ground. The Musqueam are also proposing to remove all these other buildings.

"Instead of a jumbled collection of rundown buildings and car lots, visitors [driving into the city from the airport]would be greeted by a vision of an interpretive park open to all British Columbians, travellers and citizens of Vancouver that would celebrate the Musqueam-Coast Salish heritage on whose lands all of Metro Vancouver and surrounding cities are built," Chief Campbell said.

The fate of the land became an issue this winter after intact human remains were found during excavations for the condominium on an area that had previously been built on. The province's archeology branch and city hall had given the necessary approvals to enable property owners Fran and Gary Hackett to build on the site. The Hackett family has owned the land for more than 50 years.

The condominium development was stopped last month after Musqueam band members picketed the site. However, the developer in the past few days resumed demolition of buildings on the site and some archeological work, said spokesman Bob Ransford.

Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem indicated the city is looking to the province to resolve the dispute. "We support the Musqueam's right to protect and respect a historical site. It is our hope that the province takes a more assertive role in resolving this issue," she said in an e-mail. Ms. Ballem did not indicate whether the city would consider the proposal to transfer density.

The province's ministry of aboriginal relations had not seen the proposal and could not comment on it on Thursday.

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Musqueam spokesman Wade Grant said the Musqueam consider the property sacred. "It is the last real connection we have to thousands of years of history of living in that area."

The first nations also see the burial grounds as part of the history of Canada. "We hope the provincial government recognize the historic significance of this site for the entire province. It is not just first nations history," he said.

"We hope one day the site will be re-assembled and recognized for what it is," he said. "We all live here and share the history. I think Musqueam history is everybody's history and I hope people recognize that."

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