Government Commitments

Treaties and Land Claims

2 provincial parks in B.C. being considered as part of treaty settlement with First Nations

January 31, 2023

Discovery Island Marine Park and Sooke Mountain Park would remain open to the public, managed by First Nations

Discovery Island, or Tl’ches, off the coast of greater Victoria, B.C., is one of the last remaining homelands of the Songhees Nation. Part of the island is reserve land, and the other is a provincial park. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

CBC News: Two provincial parks in the southern Vancouver Island region may be returned to local First Nations as part of the modern treaty process.

The Songhees and T’Sou-ke Nations are in the final negotiation stage of the B.C. Treaty Process. It will still be a few years before final treaties are signed, ratified, and implemented — though they have already been in talks for about 25 years. As part of the final negotiations, the province is considering returning Discovery Island Marine Park to the Songhees, and Sooke Mountain Park to the T’Sou-ke. 

The parks would still be open to the public, but managed by the nations. 

A map shows Oak Bay on the left and Discovery Island on the right.
Discovery Island can be seen from the beaches of Oak Bay, in Greater Victoria. (Google Maps)

The Songhees already hold half of Discovery Island, which is just off the coast of Oak Bay in Greater Victoria. Chief Ron Sam says it has been traditional territory for thousands of years, and was hugely important at the time of colonization ⁠⁠— essentially saving the Songhees from the smallpox epidemic because they could isolate there.

Sam says the nation would continue to operate the campground on the island, but would welcome people with its own history and stories.  Unlike in the past, where treaties meant giving up land, Sam says the provincial and federal governments now see that the modern treaty process is about providing benefit for Indigenous communities. 

“It’s been huge improvements and huge steps on behalf of the federal and provincial governments to treat us as governments,” said Sam. 

For the T’Sou-ke, to the west of Victoria, Sooke Mountain is a traditional place of hunting and gathering, and home to one of its smokehouse lakes — where food would be smoked and stored.  “Our part of the world is a special place,” said T’Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes. “It’s a beautiful place. You have the ocean environment. You have these beautiful mountains with smokehouse lakes.”

He says having the park back in the nation’s control would allow them to take care of that environment.

A map shows Sooke Mountain Park on the left and Victoria on the right.
Sooke Mountain Park is in the Sooke hills, west of Victoria. (Google Maps)

For Planes, the real goal is not to have small parcels of land returned, but large, connected areas that could be turned into tribal parks. Those are areas that are conserved and protected by First Nations — like Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park on western Vancouver Island, and Dasiqox in the Tŝilhqot’in region of B.C.

The T’Sou-ke and Songhees are just two of the nations in the Te’mexw Treaty Association, which is negotiating as a group with B.C. and Canada. At the end of the process, each nation will have its own separate treaty. 

Residents of the south island are encouraged to attend open houses in February, March and April to learn more about the proposed treaties. There are seven in-person events and two virtual events, from Victoria to Nanoose Bay.