The Snaw-naw-as First Nation is going to court over a boundary dispute, trying to rectify a 123-year-old surveying mistake.
The Nanoose band filed a trespass claim in B.C. Supreme Court Aug. 12 against the federal and provincial governments, as well as private property owners in Lantzville, over a triangle-shaped piece of property along the eastern edge of the reserve.
An 1888 survey of Vancouver Island separated the land from the reserve. A 1996 survey of the E&N Railway uncovered the error, showing a portion of five private properties should be designated reserve land.
The area runs 12 metres along the waterfront, extending more than 500 metres toward the Island Highway and narrowing to a point.
Members of the band voted early in August to remove nearly 65 hectares of reserve land from the Indian Act and manage it themselves under the First Nations Land Management Act. It gives First Nations the authority to develop a process to make decisions regarding their property
Brent Edwards, band director of operations, said with the new authority to manage the land, one of the first questions to ask is where the boundaries are.
“We have been trying to get some resolution on this issue with the federal and provincial government since 1996,” he said. “Just like any private property owner, we are moving to reconcile those differences. What we’re trying to do is get some action from the governments on this.”
Edwards said while the property owners are aware of the claim, the band hasn’t entered into discussions with them or the District of Lantzville.
“The property owners have inherited the error. We could talk to them, but at the end of the day they don’t have the authority and we don’t have the authority to make the decisions on those lands,” he said.
“Reserve lands are held in trust by the federal government and they have a duty to make sure decisions they make are based on correct information.”
Edwards has heard comments the band is simply making a land claim.
“It’s not a land claim. It’s an error that was made and we’re trying to rectify that,” he said. “And how do you rectify those? You either enter into discussions or you litigate. Sometimes when you litigate, individuals come to the table who might not have come to the table before.
“We’re trying to be neighbourly, but at the end of the day, we want to know where our boundaries are and right now there’s some uncertainty.”
Virginia Mathers, Snaw-naw-as lawyer, said the band is still waiting for statements from the defence before the suit can proceed.