Article by Nicola Finch –
Death has been a hot topic in these pandemic times. Perhaps you’ve considered your own death or worried about people you love dying. More people have been actively engaging in conversations about death and dying. More people have been getting their end-of-life planning in order. These conversations naturally include decisions about disposition—what you want done with your body when you die.
Burial and cremation are the two options we currently have in BC. Our population is aging and, naturally, dying. We are also dealing with increased deaths from the opioid crisis and the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of British Columbians are choosing cremation and BC needs more crematoriums. In many communities, funeral providers are having to transport our deceased loved ones to the nearest crematorium, which can be hundreds of kilometers away. Some are even transported over the border to a crematorium in the United States. In Smithers, the nearest crematorium is a 250 km drive to Terrace. Conventional (fire) cremation is the only option we have. So far. There is growing support from within the funeral industry and from the public to allow for a gentler, more environmentally friendly cremation process known as alkaline hydrolysis or aquamation/resomation. Natural organic reduction or human composting is another option that is gaining support, but these changes will not happen quickly or easily without pressure from the public.
There are two stand alone green burial cemeteries in BC; however, only one of these (on Salt Spring Island) is open to the public. Denman Island’s Natural Burial Cemetery is limited to past or current residents of the island. There are nine hybrid green burial sites within conventional cemeteries in BC. Most of our cemeteries are managed by our municipalities. There is no green burial option in the municipal cemeteries of Williams Lake or Quesnel.
Green burial (also known as natural burial) is nothing new. It’s as old as human civilization. At its most basic, green burial means no embalming, no grave liner or vault, and direct earth burial in a biodegradable container or shroud. But it is so much more than that. Those who prefer a green burial often prefer the idea of a home or family led funeral. This is a more hands-on approach to death where family and friends are reclaiming the whole process of dying and tending to our own beloved dead.
Green burial grounds are also importantly about protecting sensitive ecosystems and preserving the land in perpetuity. When I talk about this aspect of natural burial, I feel the weight of Indigenous grief. This land we call BC is covered with sacred burial grounds that have not been protected, honoured, or preserved. We have built our houses, our shopping malls, and our industrial plants on the bones of native people, and we continue to disregard and disrespect these sacred places. Our government protects our settler graveyards, but ancient Indigenous burial sites do not fall under this same protection. We have much work to do.
Establishing a new green burial cemetery in British Columbia is no different than establishing a conventional cemetery. All cemeteries answer to the regulatory body of Consumer Protection BC. Creating a new natural burial cemetery is expensive, complicated, time consuming, but doable.
One day, I hope to see a stand alone green burial cemetery available to every community in BC and a range of earth friendly disposition options available to all British Columbians. These changes will not happen, though, without pressure from the public. Until more natural burial grounds are established, we can, at the very least, lobby our local municipalities to include hybrid green burial sites in our municipal cemeteries. It doesn’t require a huge piece of the cemetery. Some hybrid green burial sites have been created on less than an acre of land.
We have to ask or it won’t happen.
Call your municipal office, your city hall, your town council, or your regional district office, and ask to speak to the person in charge of cemeteries. Ask if you can have a green burial in your local cemetery. If the answer is no, ask if green burial is being discussed and if they have an idea of when you might expect to have a green burial option available locally. That’s it. It’s that easy. We just need to ask and keep asking.
Natural Burial in BC is co-hosting two events in June with The Death Doula Network of BC. The first part is for folks who are working on or wanting to establish green burial sites in Canada. Part 2 is for anyone interested in learning more about green burial. Join us.
Nicola Finch is a death doula with a particular interest in natural burial and death literacy through education. She is the founder and president of Cariboo Community Natural Burial Association and co-founder of Cariboo Community Deathcaring Network. She and her husband, David Finch, are small business owners of Touch Wood Rings and Touch Wood Memorial Rings.
Photo Credit: Shrouded body prepared for green burial. Photo: Larkspur Conservation at Taylor Hollow, Tennessee USA. www.larkspurconservation.org