Marilyn James and her grandchildren in Vallican in 2020. Photo submitted

Province signs agreement with Marilyn James to caretake Vallican heritage site

Sinixt leaders in Washington State say they didn’t consent, Heritage BC says they did

The B.C. government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Marilyn James, a Sinixt woman living in the Slocan Valley, authorizing her to be the caretaker of a significant archeological location known as the Vallican site.

“I’ve been hosting student groups, classes and public events at the camp for many decades now, as well as caring for the site,” James said, “so it’s good to have the government recognize my authority there.”

But this arrangement is receiving strong pushback from the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT, which includes the Sinixt) in Washington State.

Roger Tinney of the Heritage Branch told the Star in mid-May that Cody Desautel of the CCT office had endorsed Heritage BC’s arrangement with James.

But in a news release dated May 29, CCT chair Rodney Cawston denied that the CCT gave consent.

The news release stated that James has no authority to have this role at the Vallican site, and criticized the province for considering her a representative of the Sinixt.

James has been at odds with the CCT for decades on the question of who speaks for the Sinixt in Canada.

“CCT is a U.S. tribal confederacy of 12 tribal groups, not solely representing Sinixt,” James told the Star. “They have no authority in Canada to represent a Canadian tribal group.”

Cawston’s news release stated that Sinixt existence and rights in Canada have been established through the legal case of Richard Desautel, in which a judge at the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the Sinixt, no matter which country they live in, have Indigenous rights in Canada.

That decision has been appealed by the province to the Supreme Court of Canada. The hearing has been postponed to the fall because of the pandemic.

“[We were] alarmed to learn that the Province of British Columbia negotiated an agreement with a single individual, Marilyn James, to act as an operator and caretaker at Vallican,” the CCT news release said.

“The British Columbia courts have expressly determined that Ms. James is not an authorized representative of the sn̓ʕay̓ckstx [Sinixt] people (Campbell v. B.C.), while the [Richard] Desautel case has established that the Lakes Tribe of the CCT is such a representative body.”

In 1987 the Ministry of Highways began construction of a new road at Vallican in the Slocan Valley. Construction was halted when many Sinixt artifacts, skeletal remains and pit-house depressions were uncovered.

Since then the Sinixt, including James, have reburied dozens of ancestral remains at the site, and James has given tours for school groups and the public and overseen other cultural activities there including the construction of a traditional pit house.

In the agreement, the province authorizes James as an individual, with no mention of the Sinixt, to continue those public tours, to manage seasonal accommodation in a cabin on the site for security purposes, and “other activities that do not detract from the heritage character of the Vallican site.”

Asked by the Star about this apparent contradiction related to consent from the CCT, the Heritage Branch said in an email, “It has recently been brought to the ministry’s attention that Colville may wish to make some changes to the memorandum of understanding and/or have [it] cancelled. The Heritage Branch has reached out to Colville to better understand what the issue is, and it is waiting for a response.”


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