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4,500-year-old bones returned to Heiltsuk First Nation

Remains dug up in 1977 answered useful questions for archeologists -- but they're back home now.

NAMU, B.C. -- The ancient remains of 142 members of a First Nation have been repatriated in a B.C. grave, decades after being dug up by curious archaeologists.

Members of the Heiltsuk First Nation and retired Simon Fraser University archaeologist Roy Carlson supervised the reburial on the small island of Namu, located off the northern end of Vancouver Island.

Carlson was part of excavation team that dug up the bones in 1977, some of the remains dated back 4,500 years.

The university signed an agreement last week to give the remains back to the Heiltsuk.

The remains were blessed in a special ceremony, transferred into cedar bentwood boxes and buried on Friday on the island.

Heiltsuk First nation Chief Harvey Humchitt says it felt good to return his long-ago relatives to the place where they were taken.

Carlson says analysis of the ancestral remains may yield important information for the Heiltsuk.

"(They) are very proud of the fact that the archaeology indicates their ancestors have been here for a very, very long period of time.''

He expects that the DNA will show what other peoples in the world the Heiltsuk may be related to.

"Also, the isotopic analyses will show what resources were used in the past, and they should be able to tell us how much salmon people were eating. And since there have been no treaties between the Heiltsuk and the Canadian government, all of this is evidence for their claims, which one day will be settled,'' Carlson said in a news release.

Humchitt says he wasn't thinking about land or fish negotiations when they worked to repatriate his relatives.

"A lot of times we talk about how archaeology will be answers to treaties, but when I look at our ancestors this is way beyond treaties,'' he said. "When you look at our ancestors 4,500 years ago, this was a different place. It felt good to repatriate them and return them to the place they were taken.''

The Heiltsuk plan to cover the grave area with a concrete slab and create a plaque describing what happened to their ancestors and the journey they took back to their original resting place.

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