The chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance says a local Sinixt First Nation woman was welcome at a reburial ceremony despite her claim the organization tried to prevent her from attending.
Grand Chief Stewart Philip said they gladly received all people of Sinixt descent at the ceremony in which the bones of an aboriginal woman were reinterred — including Marilyn James.
James last week resigned as spokeswoman for the local Sinixt, whose traditional territory includes the Slocan Valley. She accused the Okanagan Nation Alliance, Colville Confederated Tribes, and a longtime associate of “collusion” and deliberately trying to exclude her from the ceremony.
But in a written statement to the Star, Philip said “Whatever the personal circumstances of this resignation, it is deeply saddening that some individuals would attempt to use the collaborative repatriation and reburial of our ancestors to attempt to launch a political campaign.”
Phillip, who is also president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said the “ancestral repatriation ceremony,” which occurred in September at the Slocan Pool, not far from where a hiker discovered the ancient remains, was “an important and sacred” cultural event.
He said the Sinixt — also known as the Arrow Lakes people — are not extinct, despite a federal government declaration in 1956, and the Colville Confederated Tribes and Okanagan Nation Alliance together represent the interests of thousands of Sinixt descendants on both sides of the border.
“[We] have long collaborated on matters in the Arrow Lakes area, including on the protection and repatriation of Sinixt ancestral remains,” Phillip said.
James, in her statement, lashed out at those organizations, saying they did not speak for her.
But Philip said they worked together and with all people of Sinixt descent to ensure the remains were repatriated and reburied respectfully, observing cultural practices and “ancient indigenous protocols.”
“We will continue to focus on protecting and honoring our ancestors and are working towards another ceremony in February,” he said.
James further criticized the two groups for “intervening” in a 2011 BC Supreme Court case in which she and others tried to stop logging on Perry Ridge. “Both stood against the Sinixt and their attempt to protect the water and the land,” she said. “They are not from here and have no interest other than resource extraction and money.”
Phillip, however, said that neither group took a formal position in that case, and appeared only on the issue of standing to represent the Sinixt. The court found the Sinixt Nation Society, of which James was a member, could not claim to speak for all Sinixt.
James has been a Sinixt representative in the area since 1990 after a burial ground at Vallican was disturbed. Sixty-four sets of remains have since been repatriated to the site from various locations and institutions.