NANAIMO — Snuneymuxw First Nation hopes a historic settlement with the federal government is the first step towards more room to house members of the land-starved band.
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Snuneymuxw First Nation (SFN) chief John Wesley officially signed the largest specific claim settlement in B.C. history on Tuesday. The settlement gives the First Nation $49.1 million in compensation for 79-acres of land in Nanaimo's Stewart Ave. area which was illegally taken by the crown in the late 1880's.
Tuesday's signing formalized an SFN vote last November overwhelmingly in favour of the deal.
Chief John Wesley said it has taken 32 years of work for SFN to be compensated for the loss of their “sacred grounds.”
“With a settlement we now have a measure of compensation that we can put to work and make a difference in our lives,” Wesley said.
The chief pointed out SFN received the $49 million from the Federal Government in late August. He said most of the money is currently held in a band administered trust account. He said SFN desperately needs more land, noting 200 members are on a wait list for housing and a lack of space is the biggest stumbling block.
SFN councillor Douglas White III said Snuneymuxw has the smallest per capita land base of any First Nation in Canada. He said the federal government has land set aside for reconciliation purposes.
“The DND (Department of National Defense lands across from VIU) have always been a primary aspect of these discussions, but we're also going to be talking about the Gabriola lands and Cedar lands as well.”
White said the lands on Gabriola Island and in Cedar are each about 100-acres in size.
Minister Bennett said while money is important, Snuneymuxw has made it clear it wants more land and the federal government is willing to help make that happen.
“It would be for the Nation to decide if there are other parcels of land that they would like to purchase with the money. We would then quickly try and move it to an addition to reserve as quickly as possible.”
The settlement agreement allows SFN to request reserve status for 79 acres of land.
Bennett said the newly signed agreement with SFN is an example of a “respectful (and) true partnership in which the partner has rights we are now recognizing” and differs from past federal strategies.
“The new way of doing things is you go now to the Nation with a plain sheet of paper and say 'What do you want to talk about? What can we do together?' Then we achieve a mandate based on what the Nation wants.”
On Twitter: @reporterholmes
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