The Department of National Defence is preparing to dispose of its Royal Roads property, which puts the future of the massive green space in question and could mean a significant gain for the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
DND no longer has an operational need for the property and is “considering various options for its disposal,” public affairs officer Jessica Lamirande said Tuesday.
It is engaging with Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, which have expressed interest in the property and identified it as a core part of their claimed traditional territories, she said.
“Regardless of the end result, we are committed to supporting the continued operations of Royal Roads University in its current location. We are sensitive to the importance of Royal Roads University and the heritage buildings and will work to accommodate this in the future vision for this property,” Lamirande said.
Songhees Chief Ron Sam said if an agreement is reached, it could mark the end of a 24-year modern treaty negotiation.
“We’re not after Royal Roads University, we’re looking at the lands surrounding the university. My understanding is there’s about 500-plus acres of land at Royal Roads and that’s really what the Songhees Nation is looking at.
“We know we won’t end up with all of it, but we figure there’s substantial enough land there to accommodate Songhees in the treaty process from the federal side of the table.”
Songhees has about 126 acres of land within its territory, including its reserve and islands.
Sam said it’s too early to say what the First Nations would do with the land, if acquired.
“If we do acquire it, we’ll be sitting down to see what areas can be developed, what areas people have labelled as green space, what our dreams and aspirations are and working together to — I can’t say it enough — make it work for everyone,” Sam said.
Development would likely involve co-operation with the university to expand its facilities, rather than bulldozing the forest for a residential development or mall, Sam said.
Katharine Harrold, vice-president of communications and advancement for Royal Roads University, said the university has been assured its operations won’t be affected.
It has 83 years remaining on a 99-year lease with DND, she said.
Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas could not be reached for comment.