The Snuneymuxw First Nation and the Government of Canada put in writing a commitment to “real progress” on reconciliation.
Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, was at the Snuneymuxw community gym Monday to sign a letter of understanding with Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse.
One of the action items out of letter is to advance an agreement to transfer ‘Camp Nanaimo’ federal government land near Vancouver Island University to Snuneymuxw.
“Transferring this to Snuneymuxw is an immediate priority opportunity that is within our grasp right now,” Wyse said. “I’m confident we can get this work done and move on.”
Some of the topics of the letter of understanding, according to a ministry press release, include matters under the Douglas Treaty of 1854 related to historic village sites, fishing and hunting rights; decision-making and governance over lands and resources; self-determination and self-government; fiscal relations; child and family protection; health; community planning and development; housing; and infrastructure.
Wyse said his First Nation’s history with Canada has been “full of disrespect and dishonour” of a treaty relationship, but he is optimistic about the meaning behind the letter of understanding.
“The Canadian policy of denial of our Snuneymuxw treaty rights has been the approach of the Canadian government for over 150 years – today this history of denial changes,” he said.
Bennett said the letter signifies commitment to “real progress” during a time when Canada moves from denial of rights to recognition of rights.
“The previous pathways that Canada had offered for renewing the relationship did not work for your people,” she said at Monday’s ceremony. “And so today we are embarking on a different path, one that will allow us to work towards new ways of honouring that historic treaty relationship and implementing Snuneymuxw First Nation aboriginal and treaty rights.”
Band councillor Erralyn Joseph, president of Snuneymuxw’s economic development corporation, Petroglyph Development Group, said it’s important to the First Nation to have land returned after unlawful expropriation of traditional territory.
“We’re one of the largest First Nations, but very land-poor,” she said. “The signing of the LOU today is a real, meaningful pathway to resolve those specific land claims which will see the return of our sacred village sites that were promised under our Douglas treaty.”
Joseph suggested more reserve land is needed. Asked about economic development potential, she said Petroglyph is “one vehicle” for development and is prepared to be a leader in that process. She said Snuneymuxw leaders, the City of Nanaimo, VIU and others are “working to achieve a shared vision for these lands … to really forge a new path forward in how we can develop these lands together.”
Wyse said in a press release that newly reserved lands could “build opportunities for economic reconciliation and improved resources and services for all of our citizens, and especially with our partners, the City of Nanaimo and Vancouver Island University.”