The largest specific claim settlement in the province’s history was celebrated by the Snuneymuxw First Nation and the federal government Tuesday.
Carolyn Bennett, Canadian minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs was at the Snuneymuxw administration building where she helped mark the signing of a $49-million settlement agreement and committed to a different way of working with the First Nation.
Last year, the Snuneymuxw voted to accept a settlement agreement with Canada over its 79-Acre Claim along the Newcastle Channel, unlawfully taken in the 1880s.
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At the celebration, Chief John Wesley acknowledged the work of his council and staff, previous leadership and elders in reaching the point of settlement, which he said took 32 years and is a “big milestone.”
“The peoples and the government of Canada over the past year have achieved a historic settlement of specific claims about our loss of 79-Acre Thlap’Qwum Indian Reserve along the Newcastle Channel,” said Wesley, who noted the nation has felt the loss of the reserve every day since the 1880s and is short of land with 200 people on a housing list.
Though proud the settlement amounts to the largest specific claim in B.C., Wesley also said money can never fully compensate for the loss of sacred grounds.
The Snuneymuxw received $49 million in financial compensation in August, which has gone to community as well as into a trust. A government press release said the money can be used to buy land or invest in new opportunities for community and business development that benefits the nation’s members and the local economy.
The First Nation can also apply to have up to 32 hectares of land granted reserve status under an additions to reserve policy – a process Bennett promised to accelerate.
“We think that this will reach a solution that will meet the needs and interests of all of you as we go forward and also it’s a huge settlement, a clear signal we hope, that resolving claims is the right thing to do and that this is about agreements that offer an important path to your nation’s economic growth,” said Bennett, who told media she wants to begin conversations on land right away.
Wesley said he heard promising things from the minister about the additions to reserve, which he said is needed and he hopes will come quickly. He wouldn’t say what land Snuneymuxw is interested in.
The minister also told the Snuneymuxw the federal government will go forward based on an understanding in the Douglas Treaties and spoke to a new way of doing things where First Nations will be approached about what they want to talk about and what they can do with government, and where a mandate will be based around the nation’s wants. Previously, Bennett said she’d get a mandate from cabinet that she’d negotiate within.
“What we now know that as we rebuild trust and this creative new way of doing things, that we can actually accelerate the progress going forward in that there’s now this basis on which we can continue to work and really explore what the nation needs and then our job is to help them realize their vision,” she said.