Krysta Wyse, concession supervisor, hugs Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse after being recognized for her work, during a grand opening ceremony for a concession stand on Saysutshun Newcastle Island on May 10. (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Snuneymuxw expand economic development on Saysutshun Newcastle Island

Grand opening event for food and beverage services was held on Friday, May 10

It was a day to celebrate something new on Saysutshun.

On Friday afternoon, the Snuneymuxw First Nation held a grand opening ceremony for their new concession stand on Saysutshun Newcastle Island.

Located inside Pavilion Hall, a wooden structure built in the 1930s, the concession area offers a variety of food, including Snuneymuxw Indian tacos and Saysutshun-branded merchandise.

Unlike in previous years, the island’s concession stand is now owned and operated by the Snuneymuxw under their economic development arm, Petroglyph Development Group.

Friday’s ceremony included prayer, song, speeches and a toast. The event also attracted representatives from Petroglyph, local business leaders and politicians, including mayor and council and local MLAs Sheila Malcolmson and Doug Routley.

Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse told the crowd that his people have been waiting a long time for this moment.

“This is has been on the minds of our people for quite some time; our nation’s ability to build a strong Snuneymuxw economy, great jobs that contribute to building a stronger regional economy for everyone in Nanaimo,” he said.

Petroglyph Development Group has been working over the past couple of years to implement economic development plans for the island in an effort to provide more employment and economic independence for the Snuneymuxw people.

RELATED: Snuneymuxw First Nation unveils $6M vision for Newcastle Island

In 2017, the Snuneymuxw purchased water taxi MV Grey Selkie from the Victoria Harbour Ferry Company and began operating ferry trips to Saysutshun. The Snuneymuxw, led by the Petroglyph Development Group, also unveiled a $6-million long-term development plan for Saysutshun Newcastle Island, which includes a restaurant, adventure centre, longhouse artisans’ village and a potential fixed-link pathway to Nanaimo.

Wyse said the economic independence and growth of the Snuneymuxw is not only beneficial to his people, but to everyone in Nanaimo.

“Supporting Snuneymuxw can unlock Snuneymuxw’s economy and it has the economic potential to make an immediate and long-lasting impact on Nanaimo, including the business tourism and hospitality sectors,” he said.

RELATED: Newcastle Island is Nanaimo Harbour’s feel-good place

Newcastle Island, prior to colonization, was known as Saysutshun and was used as a training ground by the Snuneymuxw.

“Prior to contact this was a training site for our young people. Older people who trained them in different aspects of life and it was a very significant part of our history, this island,” Wyse told the News Bulletin.

Although the island has been a provincial park since the early 1960s, the Snuneymuxw has been operating it as a park for the last two decades.

“It has been a tough go at times, but here we are now and we are progressing and things are starting to move forward in a good way.”

Now, many years later, the island is serving as a different kind of teaching ground as the Snuneymuxw are providing jobs to their people on the island.

“People over here, they’re training and learning new traits for their jobs, that they are not only going to be doing for the summer months, but could help them down the road in other areas,” Wyse said.

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterward, Erralyn Joseph, president of Petroglyph Development Group, said being able to operate the concession stand means the Snuneymuxw are increasing their ability to contribute to the local and regional economy.

“It’s something that has been on our community’s mind for some time and today is another step in that direction. We managed the island, then we started operating the ferry service and now we are doing the food and beverage service,” she said. “So it is increasing our ability and our capacity to be participants in the economy.”

There are more than a dozen people employed as a result of economic development on the island. Joseph said being able to provide services as well as jobs for Snuneymuxw people on Saysutshun is a significant accomplishment. She said watching the staff members come to work happy and excited to do a good job is a huge honour that gives her a tremendous amount of pride.

“To see that joy in their eyes and their dedication to get the job done, I’m just so proud of that,” she said. 
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