B.C Hydro apologizes for damaged Snuneymuxw petroglyphs

NANAIMO – Human error cited as cause for information not reaching contractor

Vehicle tracks from a contractor hired by B.C. Hydro damaged two petroglyphs in the Cedar-by-the-Sea area of Nanaimo. Hydro apologized to Snuneymuxw First Nation for the damage.

Vehicle tracks from a contractor hired by B.C. Hydro damaged two petroglyphs in the Cedar-by-the-Sea area of Nanaimo. Hydro apologized to Snuneymuxw First Nation for the damage.

Snuneymuxw First Nation is fuming over irreparable damage sustained to two of its ancient petroglyphs by a B.C. Hydro contractor last month.

On April 10, a Victoria-based work crew was installing a new hydro pole in the Cedar By The Sea area when one of its machines, equipped with tank-like tracks, travelled over two petroglyphs, heavily damaging one and altering another.

The site has been listed on an archeological registry since the early 1970s as a site of significance, leaving Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White wondering how information identifying the site did not reach the contractor.

It’s an extremely upsetting thing that has happened to a very sacred and important site in Snuneymuxw,” said White, who learned of the incident May 3. “What’s really shocking is that this site is very well known. There are many, many sites like this throughout Snuneymuxw territory … but still it’s always a challenge for us to figure out how to protect these sites. To protect them you have to publicize them but publicizing them makes them known and exposes them to attention – sometimes attention you don’t want.”

Under provincial legislation there is a maximum $1-million fine for corporations that damage registered historical sites. B.C. Hydro was responsible for similar damage to a Snuneymuxw petroglyph back in the 1960s.

Donia Snow, executive director for aboriginal relations for B.C. Hydro, said the incident was human error and that the proper information was not passed on to the contractor.

We have a system when we design work that gets released to our internal crews or to external contractors that doesn’t automatically populate known heritage sites,” said Snow. “The reason it doesn’t do that is to protect them because those drawings go out to lots of different people, lots of different entities. We don’t want to draw attention to them unnecessarily.”

Snow added it’s the job of the project designer to identify archeological sites to work crews, which in this case didn’t happen.

Unfortunately, that population of this site was missed from the drawing,” she said.

It was on April 15 that a nearby neighbour expressed concern to B.C. Hydro that damage had been done to the petroglyphs. A representative from B.C. Hydro and Snuneymuxw were immediately deployed to the site to determine the damage.

White said the band wasn’t informed the work was taking place, and that staff are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again, while B.C. Hydro, which has apologized, has engaged Snuneymuxw to reach a reconciliation.

It’s obviously a very significant site for them and we’re going to take whatever steps we can to make amends,” said Snow.

The petroglyphs, in this case animals and faces of people, date back up to 2,000 years and are stories and spiritual reflections of the ancestors of Snuneymuxw people etched into flat bedrock.