Settlement over reserve land loss goes to vote by Snuneymuxw people

NANAIMO - Multimillion-dollar settlement for land lost in 1880s seen as potentially “transformative” for First Nation’s economic prospects.

Nearly $50 million is at stake in an upcoming vote to ratify a settlement over land the Snuneymuxw lost in the 1880s.

The settlement is over a 32-hectare reserve the Snuneymuxw once had on the shores of Newcastle Channel along what is now Stewart Avenue.

The Thlap’qwum Specific Claim – also known as the 79-Acre Claim – filed in 1992, said that land was wrongfully taken from the Snuneymuxw. Canada accepted the claim as valid in 2003 and subsequent negotiations have resulted in a settlement offer made in 2014 totalling $49,148,121, which includes costs for legal counsel to negotiate the claim.

Snuneymuxw chief and council are hoping to get eligible voters in the First Nation, about 1,200 in all, to vote to ratify the settlement on Nov. 12.

“It’s been a complicated issue and it’s been a very important part of our objectives, at Snuneymuxw, to try and get more land,” said Douglas White III, band councillor and former Snuneymuxw chief. “You can only imagine how, the impact of losing the 79 acres, what it’s meant for us over the years.”

Snuneymuxw First Nation, with a population of about 1,700, is among the most populous First Nations in B.C., but currently lives on the smallest per capita reserve land base in the province.

“The lack of land has always been a key challenge,” White said.

The settlement, if it is ratified in the upcoming vote, is described on the Snuneymuxw First Nation website as potentially “transformative” and the money would be put into a trust managed by a committee of trustees to be used for projects and acquisitions.

“It’s all the things you would imagine,” White said. “It’s for the benefit of the community, for the membership. It’s looking at land acquisitions, community development – all the things that you would expect.”

As part of the agreement, the Snuneymuxw can also ask for 32 ha of land to become reserve land. That could include portions of Department of National Defence property near Harewood through future negotiations.

Information packages have been mailed or delivered to eligible Snuneymuxw First Nation members. Anyone who has not received a package is asked to contact Theresa Marion, electoral officer at 604-666-5071 or at Theresa.Marion@aandc-aadnc.gc.ca.

For more information about the settlement and history of the Thlap’qwum Specific Claim, please visit www.snuneymuxw.ca/project/79-acre-claim.