Chief and council of Simpcw First Nation (“Simpcw”) are calling on the Province of B.C. to immediately suspend all management planning of the recently discovered cave in Wells Gray Park until Simpcw and Canim Lake Indian Band are a part of the discussions.
“We understand this is being viewed as an exciting and remarkable find,” said Shelly Loring, Chief of Simpcw, in a recent press release.
“But it’s not newly discovered – the Secwepemc have had knowledge of its existence since time immemorial.”
The cave sits in Secwepemc Territory, on un-ceded and un-surrendered aboriginal title lands, she added, and the Secwepemc Nations with responsibility and stewardship over the cave are Simpcw First Nation and Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake Indian Band.)
According to Loring, the Secwepemc have evidence of its existence, and are consulting their archives for further information.
Simpcw objects to the Province moving forward with reconnaissance work without their consent and involvement, the release said; the park lands are known to have significant Secwepemc cultural heritage values and the cave is considered a Secwepemc sacred site.
“We assert decision making authority over the park lands, and this includes the cave—the first response of the Province upon its discovery ought to have been contacting Simpcw and Canim to discuss how to approach the management of the cave collaboratively,” said Loring.
She added the situation shows the need for a parks and wildlife co-management framework agreement with the Province, which Simpcw has been proposing for years.
“We have the right to be at the table and be actively involved in the planning processes for our park lands and wildlife management,” Loring said, noting the cave was discovered during caribou surveys, also to the exclusion of Simpcw.
“We should have been involved in the survey work—caribou are an integral and irreplaceable part of Secwep’emc culture and way of life.
When the question of the cave potentially becoming a tourist attraction came up, Loring said they’re not necessarily opposed to sharing the cave with Canadians.
“However, our first priority is ensuring its protection and preservation, and honouring our Secwepemc laws and protocols—we have the responsibility and right to develop a culturally appropriate response that is guided by our traditional laws, our Elders and backed by our People, prior to the cave being exposed to any type of reconnaissance work”.
With respect to the nickname Sarlacc’s Pit, Loring said, “It’s inappropriate. Our traditions and culture dictate that a naming ceremony or revitalization of an existing name must occur collaboratively with the Simpcw and Tsq’escen’ People.”
Simpcw has reached out to the Province and expects to work closely in the coming months to ensure the cave is preserved and protected in accordance with Secwepemc laws.
“If the Province is serious about adhering to the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it claims, all work and planning with respect to the cave will be suspended until we sit down and pave a path forward together.”