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Lytton artifacts latest roadblock to a rebuild as residents rally

Mayor says residents respect archaeological significance, but wonder why process can’t be accelerated
Structures that were destroyed by wildfire are seen in Lytton, B.C., on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Former Lytton, B.C., residents are rallying to protest continual delays that they say have hampered their ability to rebuild 2.5 years after a devastating wildfire tore through the village in June 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Archeologists have uncovered thousands of artifacts, including a 7,500-year-old spear point, as they dig below what was Lytton, B.C., the village destroyed by fire in June 2021.

But for those who lost their homes and businesses in the village, that careful research has been one more roadblock to the rebuilding process, Lytton’s Mayor Denise O’Connor said in an interview.

Lytton residents rallied on Wednesday in protest of repeated delays to rebuild their community.

When the gold miners arrived in the area in 1858, they began building on the site of the Nlak’pamux First Nation village and its burial grounds, and as the village grew, the nation’s history was lost or obscured.

The site is protected under B.C.’s Heritage Conservation Act.

On June 30, 2021, just one day after Lytton hit a Canadian temperature record of 49.6 C, a wildfire swept through the village, killing two people and levelling almost the entire Fraser Canyon community.

Lytton’s council awarded a provincially funded contract in March 2022 to the consulting firm AEW for archeological and heritage monitoring. The firm was formed in 2017 by the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal member communities.

AEW said in a statement that rebuilding from the fire provides an opportunity to do things differently.

“As the village enters the rebuilding phase, the Kumsheen Heritage Committee will assist property owners to understand their regulatory requirements to manage archaeological sites,” the statement said.

It said the “assertion that archeology has delayed the recovery and remediation is a false narrative based on misinformation,” noting that the work has been done concurrently with recovery, remediation and backfilling.

Its monitoring has resulted in the recovery of more than 7,000 stone artifacts, and ancestral remains were also identified in four locations within the village, mostly within the burial ground mapped in 1860, AEW said.

“The mitigation and protection of the ancestors will be determined in consultation with Nlaka’pamux communities and the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council,” the statement said.

“Acknowledging and respecting this heritage is also an important step on the path to reconciliation,” the statement said.

O’Connor said residents recognize the area is of archeological and cultural significance to the First Nation.

“The people of the village of Lytton know that and respect that and don’t deny that, but is there not some way that processes can be speeded up?” she asked.

She said in an interview Wednesday that the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for residents came in a community meeting on Sept. 14 when resident Lilliane Graie said she had received a quote from AEW for the costs of digging a six-foot trench to put in service lines.

Graie told the meeting she was quoted $1,686 a day for the use of two monitors, and the project would likely take up to 10 working days.

Graie told the meeting she couldn’t imagine how anyone in Lytton could afford the added costs.

O’Connor said Wednesday’s rally,which was initiated by residents after that meeting, aims to raise awareness about the slow rebuilding process.

It also comes as other communities burned in more recent wildfires are already starting to rebuild, she said.

O’Connor said many residents in the community feel “totally neglected” since the fire destroyed their homes.

It took a “full year” to begin debris cleanup in Lytton and residents fear other communities will be rebuilt first, she said.

“It was an unprecedented event, and yet they seem to be going through a normal process for everything, like there seems to be nothing to expedite it for the people.”

O’Connor said she had not been informed of the archeological findings. Instead, she said she first learned of the discovery of artifacts from a YouTube video from the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday where Emergency Minister Bowinn Ma cited the figures.

“We were told it’s all confidential (and) we wouldn’t be told, so it was surprising to hear Minister Ma say that yesterday,” O’Connor said.

The mayor said while she is unaware of the number of people who have abandoned their hope of returning to the community, there are still others who want to rebuild.

“I’m afraid there’s going to be others who give up if things don’t proceed.”

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