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Oak Bay senior puts reconciliation in action, leaves her home to Native Friendship Centre

Marion Cumming is leaving her multi-million-dollar Oak Bay home and property to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre in the name of reconciliation.
Marion Cumming, middle, with housemates Paulina Galuvan and Joaquin Horta at 151 Sunny Lane. Cumming is bequeathing the property to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Marion Cumming is leaving her multi-million-dollar Oak Bay home and property to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre in the name of reconciliation.

The 85-year-old, who bought the property in 1990 with her late husband, Bruce, has decided that now is the time to show more of their commitment to Indigenous people.

The Indigenous connections of land across Canada have not been acknowledged in ways they should be, said Cumming, whose .82-acre parcel is adjacent to Walbran Park on Gonzales Hill. “I think some of us appreciate the opportunity to return some of the land.”

Once the property is bequeathed to the friendship centre, she said, the intent is that it will be maintained with a sustainability fund overseen by the Victoria Foundation.

“It’s the idea that there should be sufficient funding over the decades, and if there’s an additional need, one would hope that a grant would be applied for to the Victoria Foundation,” said Cumming. “If property tax is required, the sustainability [fund] would cover it.”

The fund would also cover insurance and basic maintenance, said Cumming, who wants to see the property protected as green space for years to come.

She said she and her husband first donated land to the Indigenous community after taking part in 1990 demonstrations in Fredricton during the Oka Crisis, a 78-day standoff between Mohawk protesters and police near the town of Oka on the north shore of Montreal.

About the same time, they had decided to move west and determined that when they left their New Brunswick farm, which was over 280 acres, it should be put in Indigenous hands “as it had been for centuries,” said Cumming, who believes there might be Indigenous heritage in her family,

“That morphed into an Indigenous charity and we’re striving right now to ensure that it’s returned to the local band,” Cumming said. “We’d like to think other Canadians are getting inspired now to return land in creative ways.”

She said reconciliation is “pretty much top of mind” these days for many people.

“With National Truth and Reconciliation Day coming up [on Sept. 30], more and more Canadians are becoming more aware.”

The property’s assessed value is $2,248,000, and Cumming has been approached by developers.

“But the place is meant to be here for building cultural bridges and establishing good relations with the neighbourhood.”

Before COVID-related lockdowns, she held garden events, a writing circle and an art circle at the house for Indigenous people and others, Cumming said. “We’re slowly starting to resume again.”

Friendship Centre executive director Ron Rice said he is grateful the land will be coming to his organization, which intends to “put the house to good work.” “I think the thing that impresses me most about the transaction is this isn’t the first time she and her husband have done something like this.”

He said the couple made their land donation in New Brunswick “long before reconciliation was even a concept or a term.”

Cumming noted that the Sunny Lane property has a beautiful location, with views out over the Salish Sea.”

She said giving private land to Indigenous people “has been going on quietly for over 30 years,” and she hopes others will be inspired when they hear about the donation.

“Maybe it will encourage people to think that there’s a deeper good in valuing Indigenous sensibilities of respect for the land.”

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