Snuneymuxw First Nation and a private developer held a signing ceremony today that will lead to the potential transfer of a significant parcel of land as part of an “unprecedented relationship.”
On Wednesday, June 22, elders and members of the community met on Snuneymuxw First Nation territory to witness a signing ceremony involving Snuneymuxw and Seacliff Properties Ltd. that “clears the path for an enduring relationship” between the two parties.
In Seacliff Properties’ Sandstone project, 294 hectares would be developed with a mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses at the southernmost part of the City of Nanaimo near Cedar Road, the Trans Canada Highway and the Duke Point Highway.
The Vancouver based real estate company could potentially return up to 106 hectares of traditional land, located adjacent to the Nanaimo River estuary, back to Snuneymuxw. The lands include former Snuneymuxw village areas that were taken by the Crown nearly two centuries ago without consent.
The master plan for the Sandstone project was adopted in February and includes 37 hectares of land to be transferred to Snuneymuxw First Nation. If zoning is successful, another 10 hectares will be transferred to the First Nation along with the option for Snuneymuxw to purchase an additional 61 hectares.
“It’s been the result of many conversations, the result of many studies, the result of many meetings in the chief’s office and really bringing all the issues forward that Snuneymuxw had on our heart and our mind,” said Snuneymuxw Coun. Erralyn Joseph.
Acting chief William Yoachim said the land transfer isn’t “part of any agreements with the provincial or federal government … strictly the nation and a private company coming to an agreement of doing what’s right.”
According to Yoachim, the land was traditionally considered a “bread basket” at certain times of the year being located so close to the river.
The planned use for the land, once returned, said Yoachim, could include cultural and family purposes with possible “economic benefit.”
As part of the Sandstone project, multi-family housing units could end up in the band’s control, as indicated by the developer’s master plan.
“But most of all, our Chief Wyse and council have always wanted to give people homes … to have somewhere to live, and right now we can provide that opportunity,” said Yoachim.
He added that the approximate Snuneymuxw population sits at 2,000 members, with only 700 living on reserve land, and indicated the First Nation has lowest per-capita land base in the country for on-reserve population.