Eric McLay envisions kiosks, fencing, an outdoor classroom, interpretive signage and trails at the site of an ancient native village near Duncan.
McLay, who is an archaeologist, and members of a number of other groups recently spent two weeks preparing the site, called the Ye’yumnuts village, to eventually become an outdoor classroom that will highlight the history of the 2,000 year-old settlement.
He said the project received a BC 150 grant that allowed the various groups involved in the project, which include Cowichan Tribes, Nature Trust of BC, the province, School District 79 and the Municipality of North Cowichan, to do further work to protect and prepare the site for continued work that is still in the planning stages.
The 2.4-hectare two-millennium old Ye’yumnuts village is located near the foot of Mount Prevost where archaeological evidence of ancient tools, homes, hearths and grave sites was first discovered in the 1990s.
The site was slated for a private residential development, which was called Timbercrest Estates, at the time, but work stopped with the discovery of dozens of human skeletons in the area.
For almost 25 years since then, the site was fought over until it was finally protected in a deal involving the B.C. and federal governments.
McLay said the recent project involved implementing some longstanding heritage conservation and management at the site.
He said the work involved removing invasive plants, brush cutting, clearing and mowing the burial site area, placing a protective geotextile fabric over archaeologically sensitive areas, and finally capping the burial ground that has been found there with more than three feet of imported clean soil.
“Most importantly, after 25 years of exposure, the original bulldozer trench by Timbercrest Estates Ltd. was filled in and covered up in order to help protect the site and respectfully commemorate and manage it,” McLay said.
“In the next few weeks, this area will be seeded and restored with native grasses and flowers, and a protective split cedar rail fence will be installed. Future steps at Ye’yumnuts involve establishing new trail systems, an interpretive kiosk, outdoor classroom area, fencing and signage for public education about the site, along with curriculum development between the Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Valley school district and the University of Victoria. There are several designs in the development stage for the new heritage site park.”
McLay said the next step is to find more funding for the next stage of the project.
“I believe this heritage management work at Ye’yumnuts is a significant change toward how we publicly treat First Nation heritage sites in British Columbia,” McLay said.
“It reflects a movement from historical neglect, destruction and conflict toward working collaboratively to actively preserve, respect and learn about First Nations’ history for the future.”
It’s been estimated local indigenous people lived there for 600 years, then used the area as a large burial ground for another 600 years.
McLay said among the hundreds of artifacts excavated at the site were shells from the Island’s west coast, Jade from the Fraser River area, and obsidian from as far away as Idaho and Oregon, suggesting wide-ranging trade routes used by native peoples through the ages.
“The site has a lot of regional implications, and that’s why we want to set it up as an outdoor classroom for the public and students from the local schools,” he said.