Remains discovered this past summer during reconstruction of West Victoria Street downtown were that of an arthritic mother in her 50s dating to before Columbus landed in the Americas. The remains — including rib bones, a femur and shoulder blade — will be reburied in the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc reserve cemetery next month.
Tk’emlups language and culture manager Ted Gottfriedson said the band has learned the bones date back 545 years and belonged to a woman between the ages of 50 and 59 who stood about five feet tall, gave birth to at least one child, was right-handed and had osteoarthritis. No cause of death was determined.
Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir said no other artifacts were found around the remains when they were unearthed on June 26 at a depth of about three feet near the Budget Brake and Muffler building on the downtown route.
Gottfriedson explained the historical significance of the find.
“The first Europeans to move in here was like 1810, 1811,” Gottfriedson said. “This was about 300 years earlier that she had passed away. When she had passed away, this would have been a time when we were at our peak for population, for our culture, for everything. This would have been high times for our people.”
Asked if anything could be gleaned from the discovery, Gottfriedson said it reiterates the prevalence of the Secwepemc people throughout the valley, a reminder that previous to living on reserves, First Nations were “everywhere.”
Now that the remains have been tested and identified, a reburial will take place at the Tk’emlups cemetery next to St. Joseph’s church on Nov. 1. The 9:30 a.m. ceremony will include song and prayer and be followed by a feast.
“We are approaching this as a traditional funeral for one of our own,” Gottfriedson said, noting it is important to rebury the deceased woman. He said it is “very taboo” in Secwepemc culture to walk on a grave and pointed to a lack of grass at the Tk’emlups cemetery, intentionally not planted because mowing over graves would be considered disrespectful.
“We don’t want her to be stepped over,” Gottfriedson said of the reburial. “She’s been driven over. For me, personally, I just think of all the times I’ve driven over her and how awful that is for me to have done that. So, we’re going to take her and we’re going to bury her there. Obviously, those are her descendants. She’s with family. She won’t be disrespected.”
T’kemlups praised the City of Kamloops for its part in handling the ancestral discovery. Gottfriedson cited the city’s contractor for stopping work immediately, the hiring of security to protect the remains and the provision of access for a ceremony during afternoon rush hour.
“It’s really terrible for us to step over a grave, well, never mind digging them up,” he said. “It’s one of the worst things we can do, so we have to have a ceremony to help her in our way. It was so cool, the excavator operator asked to be involved. It was very powerful.”
City of Kamloops CAO David Trawin noted the city and Tk’emlups began working on archeological protocols about two years ago. Darren Crundwell, the city’s capital projects manager, expects the protocols will change practices in the field.