Raising my children in a multicultural city like Richmond, BC, I never really had to explain racism to them, until the day they clearly witnessed that First Nations people are not treated the same as other Canadians.
Musqueam territory encompasses most of what is now Metro Vancouver. Before contact with the Indian Act Reserve system, the nation had approximately 30 villages throughout the region. The village site of c̓əsnaʔəm had been deemed a National Historic Site by the federal government in the early 1900s, because of the significance of artifacts dating back 2,000 years and hundreds of bodies still buried on the site.
In January of 2012, a Musqueam band member discovered that the village site of c̓əsnaʔəm was being destroyed by backhoes. Upon further investigation, it was learned that a development permit had been issued by the Province of BC to erect condos on the site, which would include underground parking, completely desecrating their ancestors buried there.
Tragically, the digging had already unearthed two adult and two infant remains, and an undetermined number of bones that had been disgracefully placed in rubber totes on the property.
The entire community of Musqueam rose up to take a stand and occupied the site for 200 days. Having been asked by community members to speak on behalf of the occupation, I stood at the site every day, but also felt a pull to be there, as the remains unearthed resembled my own family unit.
I was also the media spokesperson throughout the many actions, which included visiting the non-native cemetery owned by the City of Vancouver. I held up mock ‘rezoning’ and ‘development permit’ signage to indicate to other passersby that their loved ones would never be disturbed for the sake of city development. Other actions included boarding buses to the legislature at the Capital, and holding a rally in front of the Premier’s office and downtown Vancouver.
Unfortunately, having not obtained any response from government, the community took a drastic measure – shutting down the Arthur Laing Bridge during rush hour, a major traffic artery between Vancouver International Airport, and commuters’ access to the city.
Throughout this period, I missed a great deal of time with my children, loss of a full-time job and other irreparable life disruptions. It was a very long, arduous haul. But victory would be ours in the end.
In November of 2012, the final of many permits issued by the Province had been allowed to expire. The title holders on the property finally allowed Musqueam to replace their ancestors back in the ground and hold a sacred ceremony to return them to rest.
As a result of this experience, I have become a social activist on many fronts. Now having a stronger bond with other First Nations throughout Canada who take a stand to right wrongs against their nations, I speak out for families of murdered and missing indigenous women, giving a voice and presence to environmental injustices, and affordable housing issues. Finally, because of the huge community support from so many groups in and around Vancouver, I am now speaking out for other groups facing discrimination, including welcoming refugees to my traditional territory.
I am now speaking out for other groups facing discrimination, including welcoming refugees to my traditional territory.
Cecilia during a media scrum
Having been asked by community members to speak on behalf of the occupation, I stood at the site every day, but also felt a pull to be there, as the remains unearthed resembled my own family unit.
“As a wife and mother of two, Richmond resident Cecilia Point never pictured herself as an activist. But when news broke in January that human remains had been discovered at a condominium construction site in south Vancouver, the Musqueam band member says she felt spurred to action.” – Andrea Woo, Globe & Mail August, 2012