Stef Laramie By court order technicians were granted access to an orchard where the ancestral remains of at least seven people were unearthed in February 2016. Technicians are working quickly but weather and ground conditions are causing challenges.

Ancestral remains recovery slow going near Cawston

Rain and the hard soil conditions have slowed the recovery process of the ancestral remains.

Technicians and volunteers continue to sift through the ground looking for bone fragments of ancestral remains on an orchard property near Cawston

Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band said challenges including weather and the condition of the ground has slowed the process.

“It’s the rain and because of how they’ve been disturbed they’ve been run into the ground and the amount of time they’ve been exposed means that the ground is very hard,” he said.

The ancestral remains of at least seven people were unearthed Feb. 29, 2016, when contractors were flattening a small hill on the property so more apple trees could be planted.

There was evidence that at least two children were among those buried.

The contractor immediately contacted RCMP upon discovery of the bones. However, at least three piles of dirt was disturbed.

Crow said technicians and volunteers from across the Okanagan Nation and the province have aided in recovery efforts. Four people from the provincial archeology branch were also on-site helping last week.

Depending on the day, between 15 and more than 25 people work to collect bone fragments.

“They’ve gotten through two piles, quite a bit of the site. But there’s still a pile to go through and the ground as well, so there’s a lot left to do,” he said.

Crow said the owners of the property had not hindered the process since technicians were allowed access to the site.

A court order was needed for the band to be granted access to the site. Until then the band only had access to the site for two days in November 2016. At that time 500 bones and fragments were collected. The site was protected by a thin sheet of plastic that was loosely secured.

A Day of Action with more than 100 participants from across the province was held near the site at the end of August.

The court order came through on Sept. 11 following the province’s decision to uphold the Heritage Conservation Act, so the remains could be repatriated on site.

Crow said he is relieved that work is underway, but wished it could have happened sooner.

“I’m glad we are on site doing the work. I wish things would go a little more smoothly but I can’t complain too much,” he said.

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