The Capital Regional District Board has unanimously supported an agreement with the T’Sou-ke First Nation to access the Leech Water Supply Area for traditional use activities.
The Leech Water Supply Area, bought by the CRD in 2007 and 2010, lies within the traditional territories of the T’Sou-ke, Scia’new (Beecher Bay) and Malahat First Nations.
South Island First Nations are signatories to the 1850 Douglas Treaties, which provide for “the liberty to hunt over the unoccupied lands and to carry on our fisheries as formerly.”
The CRD has made relationship-building with First Nations a priority and respects the critical importance of Indigenous people’s relationship to the land.
“The lands that you call the Leech Watershed are in the heart of our territory,” said T’Sou-ke First Nation Chief Gordon Planes.
“Those smokehouse mountains are sacred to us, they have provided food and medicines for our people since time immemorial. This is one of our places our children learn the Sentocen language while walking the land with their elders, teaching handed down from our ancestors.”
The regional water commission recently voted to close public access to the Leech area, in a long-range program to restore the logged area over time, in anticipation of one day expanding the drinking water supply area in the future.
A final decision by the CRD has not been made whether the area should be closed off to all public use, or to create a permitting system for controlling access by user groups.
Over the course of a year, CRD staff has worked with and learned from T’Sou-ke First Nation to form the basis of an agreement to allow for and facilitate traditional use access activities in the Leech while ensuring the highest standards for personal safety, environmental protection and fire prevention.
“I am proud of this partnership,” said CRD board chair Barb Desjardins. “The CRD has come a long way in understanding the First Nations relationship to the land. Most importantly, we are so grateful for the leadership Chief Planes and his council have shown in negotiating this agreement.”
Other First Nations in the region are expected to have an interest in negotiating a similar agreement with the CRD for traditional use access given the scarcity of wilderness in their respective territories.