January 26, 1996 Features & Images » Feature Story

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Harold Pascal Digs Into The Past While Looking To The Future By Stephen Vogler When newcomers to the valley find out I've lived in Whistler for 20 years, and that three generations of my family live here, they do a double take and look at me with something approaching veneration in their eyes. But today, as I talk with Harold Pascal, the guardian of Lil’wat burial sites, I feel like I've just arrived here for the first time. Pascal's family has lived in this area for the past 10,000 years, or since what he calls "the beginning of time." It's a rainy January morning when we meet outside the Meadow Park Sports Centre and begin walking along the Valley Trail towards Green Lake. In his customary baseball cap and jeans, Harold Pascal looks younger than his 51 years. One would never guess he is a grandfather nine times over. Pascal has spent much of the last 12 years researching the sacred burial sites of his people. In his talks with elders from Mount Currie, he has discovered that four of these sites are in the Whistler area. For Pascal, researching the burial sites is not just a study of the past. It is also a study of the present and the future — a way of reconnecting with his culture and with the land itself. Our boots crunch on the wet snow along the River of Golden Dreams as Harold begins to tell me of his discoveries: "We came across a lot of history saying that we've been around here for thousands and thousands of years. I happened to ask the right person the right question — 'Where are the rest of our people buried?' — and they started to name all the traditional names of all these locations in our territory... From what I understand there should be four locations around here: over at Rubble Creek, over by Function Junction, here at Mons and over towards Soo Valley." Pascal says he has been encouraging an archaeologist to dig at some of the sites, but he first must prove to the archaeologist, the police and the government that the Lil’wat were actually settled in those areas. The non-native history of this area says the Lil’wat used this valley as a trade route to the coast, and spent part of their summers here gathering berries and catching fish. The Whistler valley is generally considered a no-man's-land between the Lil’wat and the Squamish. Pascal maintains that while his people camped in different areas throughout their territory, they did have established settlements in this valley. According to native history, the Lil’wat saw the potential of the valley long before the Whistler Resort Association or even the Rainbow Lodge: "We usually were camped close to the water, for the fishing, over here at Green River. In the winter time the people lived around here. They got into trapping over in Soo Valley and around here. "Our traditional boundary, between us and the Squamish people, is at Rubble Creek. They had a settlement over at Rubble Creek. These were people that intermarried with other tribes — with the Squamish. They were outcasts from our tribe and outcasts from the Squamish tribe." He says their history tells of approximately 300 people living at Rubble Creek when the settlement was wiped out by a great landslide from The Barrier in the 1800s. He says skeletons have been found at Rubble Creek. Pascal also has a chilling tale which might explain why early pioneers in Whistler assumed natives didn't have settlements in the valley: "We know what happened in our past. The introduction of smallpox and other diseases to our people is one of the reasons that we no longer live around here. People that lived around here are buried here. When the devastation happened, a lot of our people got moved to Mount Currie, and were told they were put there for their own safety. Of course, our people then, they believed everybody was telling them the truth. But I know today that they were never told the truth." Pascal is referring to the reserve scheme which was implemented by Governor James Douglas in 1858. Shortly after declaring British Columbia a colony (unbeknownst to most of the native population, and without any treaties), he created small settlements based on European villages, where, Douglas reasoned, the Indians would adopt civilized Christian values resulting in "moral elevation of the native Indian races." Along with smallpox, the reserve scheme also freed up much of B.C.’s land for pre-empting by settlers. It is this history which treaty negotiations today are attempting to redress. As we approach the shore of Green Lake, I ask Harold about some of the Lil’wat burial customs, and if they are still followed today: "A lot of our burial customs are associated with four days — see, we deal with everything in fours. We mourn for four days, and we do our ceremonies to do with burnings — like offerings. Sometimes the people wish to leave instructions to have their belongings buried with them — some of the belongings that we figure the person's spirit will need to get to the next world. Whatever is left over is given to the people — they share with the people. That's part of the potlatch — one of the customs that non-native people tried to take away from us... The name, the land — any material wealth is given to the family... We don't believe in cremation. We believe in putting them back to the land where they initially came from." The idea of coming from the land and returning to it is central to Lil’wat and other native peoples' beliefs. The remains of their ancestors within the earth are part of the living, breathing spirit of the land — part of the cycle of life and death to which we all belong. Pascal puts it this way: "A lot of us are guided by the spirit world. Our whole way of life is based on that. We make decisions today based on the past. And we're always looking to the future... From what I understand from talking to the elders, we're born to look after the land. The whole of the land is part of us. One of the reasons we've survived is our relationship to the land itself. We don't buy and sell our mother — put it that way. It's there, it'll give us the medicines, it'll give us whatever we need, providing we ask properly." I point out the large, snow covered clearing on our right and tell Harold this is now a golf course with houses and townhomes soon to follow. We begin to talk about the vast changes that have occurred in the corridor over the last few decades. He tells me that his people were still fairly secluded at Mount Currie until about 50 years ago. He motions toward the overpass at Mons: "This highway alone is only about 25 years old. The same with this resort. They've completely changed our way of life today because of all this over development, over harvesting of resources. The corporations that come around here, all they do is profit. And the people that stay around here, they don't receive anything worthwhile or beneficial, except for the leftovers of the devastation." While their traditional territory has been altered significantly in the last 50 years, the Lil’wat have also gone through major social changes in that time. As children, most members of Harold's generation were removed from their families and put in residential schools to be assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture. While the residential schools had many devastating effects on native society, they ironically led to a stronger native rights movement and a cultural resurgence. With the ability to speak and read English, Harold Pascal and others have been able to review historical and legal documents which record their rights. Harold tells me: "Before I went to residential school, I didn't know any other custom or language but our own. It's still one of the benefits of colonization — the whole history has now been documented by myself, because I can read, I can type... They ultimately can't prove that we've given the jurisdiction to a non-native society, or other nations for that matter." Pascal's role as guardian of Lil'wat burial sites has also forced him to gain an understanding of the Canadian judicial system. He has been arrested and jailed on various occasions while attempting to protect burial grounds from desecration. In 1991, he and 10 other Lil’wats were arrested for obstruction of justice when they attempted to stop construction of a logging road through a burial ground at Ure Creek. They were put in jail in Squamish before appearing in the Supreme Court of B.C. in Vancouver. There, they refused to communicate in any language but their own to show that they did not recognize the jurisdiction of a Canadian court system on what they regard as Lil’wat territory. Pascal was eventually acquitted of the charge, but in 1994 he appealed his own acquittal in order to bring the matter of jurisdiction to a higher court. His appeal was denied by the B.C. Court of Appeal. Last summer he managed to bring the same issue before the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, where it was once again dismissed. As Harold and I turn around on the trail and head back to Meadow Park, he tells me about the Catch 22 which has resulted from taking his grievance over jurisdiction all the way to the U.N. and the International Court at The Hague: "If you bring any kind of a legal issue in front of them (the U.N.), they can't deal with it. It's got to go to the judicial system, and you go to the judicial system and they say you've got to seek a political solution... The U.N. says it's a domestic problem; the court here says that I'm an international problem and I say I'm not a problem," he jokes. While Pascal's legal battles are mired in red tape, he continues to struggle for his rights and to research and defend his peoples' burial grounds. He has already marked many of the burial sites from the north end of Harrison Lake to the upper reaches of the Pemberton Valley, and intends to eventually do the same in Whistler. As we look at the old bridge across the River of Golden Dreams, I can't help thinking how Harold's role as guardian of the burial sites must differ from that of his predecessors. He receives faxes at his Mount Currie home from New York and Geneva. He has become a researcher, a political activist and a media personality. He's been physically removed from roadblocks by the RCMP, and has a bad back and a missing tuft of hair to show for it. Re-establishing a link to his ancestors, and to the culture that allowed them to survive here for millennia, has been a long and difficult road for Harold Pascal. It has become a life-long project demanding both patience and conviction. Fortunately for Pascal, the land is alive with spirits which connect him to the past and guide him into the future. In a town where land has become little more than a commodity to be bought and sold, we might do well to take a cue from Harold Pascal, and treat it as something alive, breathing and sustaining.

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