The Musqueam Indian Band escalated its protest over a land dispute in Marpole Thursday by shutting down lanes on the Arthur Laing Bridge for almost three hours in the morning rush hour.
About 150 protesters, including B.C. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, children and seniors stopped vehicles in both directions for about 10 minutes near the mid-span of the bridge before blocking the north end ramps between 7:15 a.m. and 10 a.m.
Vehicles were backed up along Granville Street for several blocks on the Vancouver side and motorists from Richmond couldn’t access Granville. The Vancouver Police Department and RCMP used police cars and motorcycles to block traffic from driving through the crowd.
“I apologize to motorists but we want them to write their politicians because this is happening because of the politicians not coming to the table,” said Cecilia Point, a member of the band and organizer of the march on the bridge.
Marlon Blom was on his way to work at the University of B.C. bookstore when he had to stop mid-span on the bridge. He unrolled his window to tell the Courier he understood the need to protest but urged the crowd to move on.
“I’ve got to go to work here,” said Blom, while protesters banged drums and waved signs at motorists in the rain. “This is brutal. You’re messing up a lot of people’s mornings.”
Taking over the bridge was the first act of civil disobedience by the band since it began protesting last month outside a piece of private property along Southwest Marine Drive, near the on-ramp to the bridge.
The property belongs to Gary and Fran Hackett who are working with developer Century Holdings Ltd. to build a 108-unit condominium project with an underground parkade. The property is located in an area recognized in the 1930s as a Canadian heritage site and known to once be occupied by the Musqueam.
The permits issued to the developer stipulated that an archaeological dig must be done before construction. Earlier this year, archaeologists found the intact remains of an adult and two infants believed to be ancestors of the Musqueam.
The discoveries prompted the band to begin its protest and propose a complex land swap deal with the developer, the city and provincial government so the land can be turned into an interpretive park, where the remains would not be moved.
The government appointed a facilitator and was working with the Musqueam, the development team and the city on a solution. The development team says it will consider a land swap but hasn’t seen anything in writing.
The government has the final say but isn’t commenting on negotiations, although Mary Polak, the provincial minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, said in an exchange in the legislature Wednesday with Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert that she was confident of a resolution. “This is not Crown land,” Polak said. “It is, nevertheless, a role that we proudly play to help facilitate between the three parties and I’m quite confident that at the end of the day, we will find that resolution for all three that protects the site.”
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer have signed a petition in support of the Musqueam band’s desire to turn the acre-sized piece of property into a public park. Premier Christy Clark has remained silent on the dispute.