First Nation Middens - Some FAQs

October 02, 2012

Musqueam-Burial GroundsMiddens are the heaps of shells, bones, utensils and artifacts that accumulated sometimes over thousands of years of Aboriginal Peoples occupation of a site. Aboriginal Peoples were originally thought to be nomadic but the existence and dates of middens are proof positive that some Aboriginal Peoples occupied their villages year round.

The Musqueam Indian Band’s battle to save the Marpole Midden from further desecration (the site was heavily urbanized prior to most recent development plans to build 108 condominiums on the site) brought to the forefront of our collective conscious the value of protecting these sites.

We thought you might be interested in some FAQs about First Nation middens (these FAQs pertain to British Columbia, and may not be the same in all provinces and territories):

Are all middens significant, or only those that contain human bones?
In British Columbia, all middens are protected if they contain artifacts, features, materials or other physical evidence of human habitation or use before 1846. Protection means that a permit is required to alter the site.

Should all middens be protected from development?
If development is considered on a protected midden, the usual first step is to complete an archaeological impact assessment to determine the heritage value of the site and the impact development will have on these values. Heritage value includes historical, cultural, aesthetic, scientific or educational worth or usefulness of a site. This information forms the basis of the decision whether site alteration will be permitted.

As so many middens are close to beaches and ensuing erosion, should each one be protected from erosion?
The legislative protection for middens does not address natural processes, such as natural erosion.

Are property owners responsible for protecting middens from erosion?
No, there is no specific requirement under the Heritage Conservation Act for property owners to prevent the natural erosion of a site.

How many middens are there in BC?
There are approximately 5700 recorded shell midden sites in the province, and thousands of additional sites that have not been identified to date.

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