Snuneymuxw First Nation and a Vancouver-based developer announced a formal transfer of land back to the nation, which includes an ancient village site.
The official signing was held during a ceremony at the Snuneymuxw Recreation and Wellness Centre Gymnasium on Thursday, May 18. Snuneymuxw First Nation members and other community members were in attendance, as well as Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson and Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Lisa Marie Barron.
According to a release for the announcement, the “unprecedented and significant” transfer of approximately 41 hectares (102 acres) from Seacliff Properties follows through with the a partnership announced June last year, working through a recognition, co-operation and mutual benefit agreement. The land transfer, as part of the agreement, is a key component of the Sandstone project in Nanaimo and part of the Sandstone master plan adopted by Nanaimo city council as an amendment to the City of Nanaimo’s official community plan.
Snuneymuxw Chief Michael Wyse said the ceremony marked a historic day since the ancient village site, known as kwula’xw, was a place where the nation’s people would maintain a living off of the river by fishing and looking after their families.
“Our people have lived here for thousands of years and so we have a spiritual connection to the area surrounding us,” he said. “We have a lot of families that come from different parts of the region.”
The director of development for Seacliff Properties, Georgia Desjardins, said the developer plans to continue working together to not only make Sandstone a reality, but bring much-needed housing, economic and business opportunities to the mid-Island region.
In the near future, the developer aims to transfer an additional 10 hectares to the nation, following successful re-zoning, as well as the potential to purchase 60 hectares more – totalling a potential of 106 hectares of land returned to the nation.
“This sacred village was taken from our people 169 years ago, and today it was returned to our people,” said Snuneymuxw Coun. Bill Yoachim. “As important as flags, a few calendar days of the year and naming ceremonies in the non-native world are – don’t get me wrong – but today demonstrates a new example and a new bar of true reconciliation, bringing land to the rightful owners from historical wrongs.”
Wyse added that the nation’s relationship with the developer is a testament to the power of working together with a shared understanding of responsibilities as communities connected to the land.
“While nothing can reconcile what was lost, this partnership … is an example of meaningful reconciliation with the private sector,” he said.
The chief noted that while the nation’s land base is small, and that housing is a priority, he only sees potential in the upper part of the transferred land being used for housing since the portion running along the river might be too low.
Snuneymuxw’s population sits at approximately 2,000 members, with only 700 living on reserve land, and the First Nation has the lowest per-capita land base in the country for on-reserve population.