Snuneymuxw First Nation accepts nearly $50-million settlement over Nanaimo land

By Dominic Abassi/Ian Holmes
November 13, 2016 - 1:12pm Updated: November 13, 2016 - 9:12pm

Acting chief Doug White (left) beside MP Sheila MalcolmsonPhoto credit: @dougswhite/Twitter

The reserve land shown in the box labelled A 79

The red area is an overlay of the reserve on existing Nanaimo roads

NANAIMO — The Snuneymuxw First Nation (SFN) has voted to accept a record settlement agreement with the federal government over downtown Nanaimo land illegally taken in the 1880's.

An SFN release states there was near unanimous support from voters in Saturday's ratification vote to accept the $49.1-million settlement. The agreement is over a 79-acre reserve in downtown Nanaimo in the Stewart Avenue area that was taken illegally by the Crown, according to acting SFN chief Doug White. The land covers roughly where St. George Street and Cypress Street are now, right up to the edge of the water directly across from Newcaslte Island.

White says this is the largest specific claim settlement in B.C. history by a factor of five.

"We have been deprived over the past century and longer of the potential economic benefit of these lands. The loss has contributed to the harsh reality that the Snuneymuxw have the smallest Indian reserve land base per capita in the country," said White.

White says another key component of the ratification vote is a request for 79-acres to be transfered to SFN. He says it would help address the land deficit their Nation has long suffered from.

"Two-thirds of our members now live off reserve due to a lack of land," White said.

White says most of the money in the settlement will go into a trust account.

"It will be a finely tuned structure with a lot of different accountabilities built into it between the administrative trustee and the community trustees and their relationship with chief and council, and also with the membership as a whole."

White says receiving nearly $50-milllion, in addition to the potential of adding more land, addresses key needs facing SFN.

"This is an issue that strikes at the core of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and it's some of the most critical work that our people have had our minds turned toward in the last quarter of a century," he said.

The claim was initially accepted for negotiation in 2003. More than 98 per cent of the Nation voted to accept the settlement, with only 16 ballots cast to not accept. Voter turnout was 64.6 per cent.

In the released statement, White acknowledged Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and her staff for "their leadership and work in making this day possible”.

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