The Songhees First Nation and Colwood have reached an agreement that will see them work co-operatively to help determine the future of the Royal Roads lands.
Songhees Chief Ron Sam and Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton signed a memorandum of understanding for the site Monday at the Songhees Wellness Centre.
The agreement came about after the Department of National Defence announced it was planning to dispose of the approximately 650-acre property, which is traditional Lekwungen territory and also situated within Colwood’s borders.
DND has said it is committed to maintaining Royal Roads University where it currently is, while the memorandum mentions a shared interest by the Songhees and Colwood in the university’s continued operation.
“The City of Colwood welcomes the opportunity to strengthen our working relationships with our Songhees neighbours and to formally recognize our shared interest in protecting the environmental, cultural-heritage and social value of Royal Roads lands,” Hamilton said.
“There is no question that the Royal Roads lands are truly special with hundreds of acres of old-growth forest, trails, waterways and ecosystems — bordered by Esquimalt Lagoon, a national migratory-bird sanctuary, and offering views across our Salish Sea.”
She said the pact is “a first step forward” that will bring Colwood more opportunity for input on the future of the land.
“If we can work with [the Songhees] to retain a lot of the dynamic of the property, that ensures that we have a green space,” she said. “That’s a significant piece of land within the boundaries of Colwood, so it’s to our benefit to be working with them to retain that.”
She said there are no plans yet about what might happen on the land.
“Chief and council, together we haven’t sat down,” Hamilton said.
That process will now be getting underway, she said, adding that the outcome of negotiations between the Songhees and DND will set some parameters.
Sam said the Songhees recognize the need to work with municipal neighbours.
“We all have our communities that we need to look after, their interests,” he said.
He described the memorandum as reflecting “a true partnership between our level of government and their level of government,” adding that it could be two years before there are specific ideas for the property.
Sam noted that a petition has been circulated that calls for retaining the land under federal control, with fears expressed about development.
“I just want to acknowledge everybody has a voice, everybody has an opinion,” he said. “We’re not out to bulldoze and log every tree that’s on that site. We know that there’s going to be a huge process undertaken, and that’s why we reached out to the City of Colwood and the City of Colwood reached out to us,” he said.
“It’s our people in conjunction with the City of Colwood that will move it forward in a good way.”