A government liquor store site in Esquimalt, the Provincial Capital Commission headquarters and a James Bay parking lot are among properties being transferred to southern Vancouver Island First Nations in advance of full treaty settlements.
Incremental treaty agreements with five First Nations from the Te’mexw Treaty Association, with 10 properties handed to First Nations, will bring economic development and jobs, said Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong.
The aim is to help smooth the way to a full treaty.
“The process is a long journey, but it is a journey worth taking. … no matter how slow or frustrating it might seem,” Chong said.
The Te’mexw Treaty Association, made up of Songhees, T’Sou-ke, Scia’new (Beecher Bay), Malahat and Snaw-naw-as Nations, has been negotiating with federal and provincial governments since 1995 — and is now working on an agreement in principle.
Such an agreement is at least 18 months away and a full treaty could be years away, partly because of land negotiation difficulties on southern Vancouver Island, where most land is private, rather than Crown, and is expensive, said Te’mexw lawyer Robert Janes.
The parcels going to First Nations are all Crown land and negotiations centred around traditional territory and economic possibilities.
The land transfers will create a good atmosphere for tough negotiations, Janes said. “These are massively important gestures of goodwill and good faith between First Nations and the province.”
Songhees, with traditional territory around Esquimalt and Victoria, will receive the 0.14-hectare liquor store site at Admirals and Esquimalt roads, a 0.10-hectare parking lot on Michigan Street and the 0.04-hectare Provincial Capital Commission headquarters on Pandora Avenue.
The parking lot and liquor store will be transferred soon and the commission site will be transferred when an agreement in principle is signed.
“We look forward to managing these lands and [to] the acquisition of more lands,” said Songhees band councillor Gary Albany.
The liquor store will close soon, said B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch spokeswoman Tarina Palmer.
“I believe we will be relocating the store somewhere within the community,” she said.
No firm decision has been made on what Songhees will do with the property, Janes said.
The properties are subject to local zoning and provincial laws. That means decisions will be made shortly, otherwise, with taxes and insurance, they will become a drain on band coffers, Janes said.
“As it is commercial land, it should have potential for economic development and, we hope, employment.”
The parking lot is likely to continue in its current use for now, but will probably be developed, Janes said.
The Provincial Capital Commission building will continue as commercial space, he said.
Commission CEO Rick Crosby said no decisions will be made immediately about where his nine staff will go when Songhees take over.
“One option is become a tenant in the building,” Crosby said.
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