The Vancouver Park Board has hired its own staff archeologist to work with First Nations as it considers the future of Stanley Park and others in the city, ensuring those plans take into account the area's historical and cultural significance to local aboriginal communities.
Geordie Howe, a former head of the B.C. Association of Professional Archaeologists who has toiled in the field for four decades, will consult with the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, whose traditional territories include the park.
He says one of the main challenges will be making sure that the plans are equally agreed upon by First Nations and the park board.
"What is actually going on there is [First Nations'] collective memory of what went on at those sites and the importance of those sites to their culture and history, and becoming more familiar with those ideas and concerns in my work that will help alleviate any issues that may come," he said.
"That doesn't mean there won't be issues – but at least I will have a better understanding of how they view each other's sites."
The board says a First Nations representative was involved directly in, and approved of, his hiring.
Stanley Park – named for the governor-general who was the namesake for the Stanley Cup – opened in 1888 on the northwestern edge of what is now downtown Vancouver. The site covers more than 400 hectares, much of it rain forest, as well as notable sites, such as the Vancouver Aquarium.
The Vancouver Park Board – now more than a century old – is a unique body of elected members that was tasked with managing Stanley Park when it was established. Today, the board runs more than 200 parks in the city.
Mr. Howe says he's just getting started by reviewing existing policies, and will soon become a contact point for the three First Nations. He says some of the protocols he will develop will be very high level, but he also plans to get down to specifics in dealing with each individual site he works on.
Sarah Kirby-Yung, chair of the park board, said part of Mr. Howe's job will be to help ensure First Nations are properly consulted about new development within the park to ensure they don't disturb culturally significant sites, such as ceremonial or burial sites.
"For example, if we are looking at installing a piece of public art on a site that may have cultural significance to the First Nations … then we will have an opportunity to have a discussion around just the significance around that particular site, if it is an appropriate location or not for a piece of public art or not, things of that nature," she said.
Mr. Howe's new job won't have him working exclusively in Stanley Park – he'll also be given other projects, including restoration to the seawall, the East Fraser Lands development and Beaver Lake.
This past January, the park board committed to actions called for by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission – including a promise to make sure: "Aboriginal protocols shall be respected before any potentially invasive technical inspection and investigation of a cemetery site or soil disturbance of a midden site takes place on park lands."
Ms. Kirby-Yung hopes the board's creation of Mr. Howe's role can be used as a model for others.
"I think we are blazing the trail here," she said. "Part of Geordie's job will be defining that role and what it can bring,"
When asked about a specific site she's looking forward to working on with Mr. Howe, Carleen Thomas, manager of intergovernmental relations from the Tsleil Waututh Nation, had a simple answer.
"Well, obviously, it is the whole park," she said.
"Because our people have been there since time out of mind, and when they created the park they just evicted all the people that were living there."
She described the relationship with the park board as a "work-in-progress," but is very excited about Mr. Howe's hiring. She said he has a working history with the three First Nations communities.
"We truly are excited that we are moving on this endeavour together," Ms. Thomas said. "Stanley Park is such a jewel for British Columbia and Canada … I think coming together and being able to work with the Park Board as the three First Nations here in the city is phenomenal."