Mount Benson, seen from Nanaimo’s Northfield Road rest stop. The Snuneymuxw First Nation and provincial government announced agreements to transfer land on the mountain to the First Nation. (News Bulletin file photo)

Snuneymuxw, province sign land transfer agreement that includes parts of Mount Benson

First Nation sees economic development opportunities through forestry partnerships

The Snuneymuxw First Nation and the provincial government announced this week they have come to agreements that will include transfer of land at Mount Benson.

The reconciliation implementation framework agreement and land transfer agreement, announced by the province and the First Nation on Sunday, include more than 3,000 hectares of “culturally and economically significant lands” at Mount Benson and Mount McKay.

Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse, in a letter to members of the First Nation, said the agreements recognize treaty rights and return traditional territory to the First Nation.

“These two agreements combined are amongst the largest comprehensive reconciliation agreements in B.C. that will breathe life through the generations,” Wyse said.

The government press release notes that the agreement will lead to economic growth and as many as 160 jobs “through innovative forestry partnerships” connected to a Mid Island Regional Forestry Initiative signed in 2017.

“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 in the release. “Like we have always done, Snuneymuxw people 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.”

The land parcels include approximately 1,000 hectares at Mount Benson and 2,100 hectares at Mount McKay. The release notes that the Mount Benson parcel overlaps with Snaw-naw-as First Nation traditional territory and the Mount McKay parcel overlaps with Stz’uminus First Nation’s traditional territory, and that land transfers won’t be finalized until consultations have been concluded with those First Nations.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said the agreements are part of “an historic day for reconciliation” and said the Snuneymuxw First Nation will be able to move forward with a vision to grow the economy in partnership with forestry companies.

“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,” he said in the release.

READ ALSO: Snuneymuxw sign letter of understanding with Canadian government

The release adds that Snuneymuxw’s planning for the lands will prioritize public engagement, noting that the lands include “key wildlife habitats and popular recreation spots for the public.” The release says 300 hectares on Mount McKay will be conserved as habitat for elk and deer.

Scott Fraser, B.C. minister of indigenous relations and reconciliation, said in the release that Snuneymuxw has been working with local forestry companies on a strategy to reinvigorate the forest industry in the region.

“These agreements support this work – helping to create jobs and ensure stability and economic growth throughout the region, which will benefit everyone living in the central Island,” he said.

The press release notes that as part of the agreements, Snuneymuxw will drop litigation against the province over concerns around log booming in the Nanaimo River estuary.

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