Members of a Nanaimo First Nations group are outraged after crews contracted by BC Hydro damaged a documented ancient rock art site during work recently.
Douglas White, chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation said the damage is disrespectful of native heritage and he doesn’t understand how crews could make the mistake, since existing petroglyph rock art sites are documented and protected by legislation.
Petroglyphs can be more than 2,000 years old and typically feature etched drawings that serve as a record of First Nations history on the surface of flat bedrock sandstone.
“This is a notoriously well-known site,” White said.
“I don’t understand this to be a mistake that can be made... this is the kind of desecration where I would expect charges to be laid.”
A documentation form provided by the Snuneymuxw First Nation listed previous damage to the same site in 1960, when a power pole was installed in close proximity to the petroglyph.
It is known to archaeologists by the title Cedar By the Sea Petroglyphs and had been registered with the province since the early 1970s.
A spokesman from BC Hydro confirmed one of its contractors had started work in the area, unaware it contained the petroglyphs.
Lyle Viereck, the company’s director of Aboriginal relations said BC Hydro has clear policies and procedures in place that must be followed near heritage resources that were somehow missed.
However, once the damage was realized, Viereck said BC Hydro contacted First Nations groups and archaeologists to assess what could be done.
“As soon as we learned about the incident, late in the week, we alerted members of the Snuneymuxw and Chemanius first nations and asked them to visit the site with us to see if the petroglyph was damaged,” he said.
“Once we determined that there was damage to the surface of the petroglyph, we also notified the provincial archaeology branch.”
Viereck said the company has launched its own investigation to determine what happened.
“It appears that this site was erroneously omitted from the information provided to the contractor,” Viereck said in a statement to media, adding the company will work with the Snuneymuxw First Nation to address their concerns and prevent a similar event.
“BC Hydro takes incidents of this sort very seriously and we greatly value and respect our relationship with Chief White and the Snuneymuxw. BC Hydro executive plan to meet with Chief White as soon as possible to hear their concerns, address any site issues and prevent anything like this from happening again,” he said.
Local archaeologist Guy Prouty with Vancouver Island University described the incident as shameful and said it was inexcusable that an inspection of the area was not carried out before construction.
He said First Nations rock art served a variety of functions for its indigenous creators and lasting examples are an ethnographic record of spiritual or mythical history.
“They’re very important because any items in the archaeological record, such as pictographs or petroglyphs, these are non-renewable. Once they’re destroyed, they’re gone forever,” Prouty added.