The caretaker of the Sinixt village and burial ground at Vallican says he considers a statement by Marilyn James last month to be slanderous.
In an email to the Star, Robert Watt responded to James’ resignation as a local Sinixt spokeswoman over a reburial ceremony at Slocan Pool. She accused him of “colluding” with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and Colville Confederated Tribes to exclude her.
Watt wrote: “I will not speak against Ms. James but I will say that her letter is full of slander.”
He said his main concern was that their ancestor “be put to rest in a respectful and traditional manner by her people. In my heart, I believe this has been accomplished. When dealing with such a serious and sensitive matter, there is no place for politics.”
Watt thanked his “Sinixt relatives who helped bring our ancestor home” as well as members of the broader community who “conducted themselves in a peaceful and respectful manner.”
Watt was appointed caretaker by a council of elders after human remains were disturbed at Vallican during a road construction project in 1989.
Virgil Seymour, the Arrow Lakes facilitator with the Colville Confederation, praised Watt for his assistance in an interview last week, saying they owed him “a great debt.”
James did attend the ceremony, along with about 30 other people from Canada and the US, although she claims she was deliberately given the wrong time. Seymour said he was not in contact with James beforehand, while the chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance said James was welcome to attend.
In February, a hiker discovered bones on the Kootenay River at South Slocan, in an area known to have been home to a Sinixt village. They were determined to belong to a woman, although their precise age is unknown.
Although 64 sets of Sinixt remains have been repatriated to the Vallican site from various institutions and locations, a group of elders decided these bones should be reinterred as close as possible to where they were found because the woman likely had relatives buried nearby.