Thousands of hectares to be transferred to First Nation near Nanaimo

Two new agreements which will transfer more than 3,000 hectares of land near Nanaimo to the Snuneymuxw First Nation from the province of B.C. foresees economic opportunity, stability and jobs in the form of partnerships with forest companies.

Embedded in the deal is an assurance by the Snuneymuxw First Nation that it will discontinue a lawsuit, launched in 2001, against the province over the impact of log booms in the Nanaimo River estuary and how it affected Douglas Treaty rights to fish.

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A total of 1,003 hectares at Mount Benson, west of the city, is to be transferred, along with 2,097 hectares at Mount McKay, southwest of Nanaimo.

The agreements set aside 300 hectares for elk and deer habitat and ensures continued access for the Great Trail of Canada.

“These lands that are being returned to us are important to the Snuneymuxw culture and way of life,” Chief Mike Wyse said.

The agreements recognize Snuneymuxw rights and implement the Snuneymuxw Treaty of 1854 established with Sir James Douglas, he said.

“Our shared commitment to stewardship and protection of the lands and waters of British Columbia and protection of endangered species and habitat is an essential element of our values to protect our lands and resources for this and future generations,” Wyse said.

The First Nation welcome “new relationships, support prosperity and business development in the mid-Island area, and will work with all of our partners to bring new opportunities.”

Wyse said the agreements were made possible by past Snuneymuxw leadership. Today, the Nation has a population of more than 1,700, making it one of largest First Nations in B.C.

It is expected the agreement will foster economic activity and result in 160 direct and indirect forestry related jobs, building on the Mid-Island Regional Forestry Initiative signed in 2017 between Snuneymuxw and industry.

Public engagement on Snuneymuxw’s plans will be carried out prior to the transfer. As well, consultation has started with several other First Nations and will wrap up before land is transferred, the province said.

The Mount McKay parcel overlaps with Stz’uminus First Nation’s traditional territory, and each of the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group member First Nations (Cowichan Tribes, Halalt, Lyackson, Ts’uubaa-asatx, and Penelakut), the province said in a statement. The Mount Benson parcel overlaps with Snaw-naw-as First Nation.

Premier John Horgan said: “I committed to the Snuneymuxw First Nation to help resolve a long-standing desire for a greater stake in the economic development of Crown lands in their territory, and I’m pleased to act on that commitment now.”

Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, said: “Snuneymuxw has been working with local forestry companies on a strategy to reinvigorate the forest industry in the region and these agreements support this work – helping to create jobs and ensure stability and economic growth throughout the region.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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