Comox Mayor Russ Arnott casts lone vote against out of court conversations to settle dispute over the Mack Laing Trust. But the town must apologize for its historic wrongdoing.
Naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing tending trees in his nut farm, now called the Orchard Park area / Archives photo
Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park
Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, called Shakesides, and construct something else, a serious question arises:
With whom did town staff and council members consult?
We know that neither the town or Comox Council consulted in any formal way with the Mack Laing Heritage Society, which is the only other local party to the legal action to demolish the house.
We know the town did not consult with Lacasse Construction, the well-known Comox Valley construction company that has volunteered to take on the restoration of Shakesides, or with any of the two dozen other civic-minded building and architectural professionals.
We know the town didn’t consult with about a dozen Mark Isfeld High School students who wrote letters to the mayor and council supporting the preservation of Laing’s house on Comox Bay.
In fact, as it turns out, the town and council didn’t formally consult with anyone other than themselves.
You might say a recent public engagement workshop on the topic was a form of consultation. But because participants were allowed to hear about only one single possibility for the building’s future, it doesn’t count.
Still, even disregarding the town’s intentional lack of consultation, it’s a mighty big oversight to not consult with the K’omoks First Nation.
“It is therefore with disappointment … that this proposal and future improvements to the Mack laing Parks has already been … decided upon without prior consultation with KFN, Chief Rempel wrote. “The large shell midden here is of significant cultural importance to KFN. It is the resting place for many KFN ancestors. This significance is well-recognized.”
KFN requested a halt to all planning and other work until “meaningful consultation has taken place.”
And it wasn’t the first time KFN has expressed concern about the town’s activities on the waterfront property Laing bequeathed to the Town of Comox.
“We have previously written to Mayor Paul Ives on the importance of this site and area is to the KFN,” Rempel wrote.
KFN expressed concerns roughly four years ago when the town demolished Laing’s original home, called Baybrook, which is just across Brooklyn Creek from Shakesides. In particular, KFN noted the town had erected a bench on top of a midden.
Informed local people know — or should know — this area is an important and sacred area for KFN.
A 1990 archaeological investigation for the archaeology branch of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, found that First Nations people “occupied the two kilometre-long Comox Harbour Site, which lies in the lee of Goose Spit” for “at least the last 2,000 years.”
It’s not like the town hasn’t had the time. They have been planning to demolish Shakesides for years. Consulting with KFN is the first thing they should have done.
To make matters worse, during a recent Committee of the Whole meeting, Mayor Russ Arnott claimed he had spoken with KFN. He gave the impression to some that the K’omoks were duly informed and on board with the town’s plans.
But that’s not the case, according to KFN Chief Rempel.
Arnott’s idea of collaboration and consultation appears to be that “when we’ve decided what we’re going to do there, we’ll let you know.”
That approach is understandably offensive to KFN.
The protection of archaeological sites is “a moral and spiritual obligation” for KFN people, Rempel said. And she cited the United Nations Declarations of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how other jurisdictions, such as the City of Vancouver, have honored it proactively.
“It is KFN’s perspective that all Local Governments should follow these examples, and take the management and preservation of archaeological sites much more seriously,” she wrote to Arnott and council members.
Ditto to that. And we would add the management and preservation of “all sites with a heritage value.”
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