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First Peoples Law Report: CHEK News – The stroke of a pen may never have held as much significance for the Snuneymuxw First Nation as it did Saturday when Chief Michael Wyse and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree signed an agreement that returns 80.09 hectares of federal land (the “Camp Nanaimo Lands on Te’tuxwtun”) in Nanaimo back the Snuneymexw people.
“Snuneymuxw, we did it,” Wyse told about 60 people who had gathered for the signing at the Quam Qwum StuwixwulhCommunity School on Saturday.
The band council of the 1990s identified land on both sides of the Nanaimo Parkway at 5th Street and College Street as land that needed to be returned by the federal government after being taken from the Snuneymuxw people in the mid 1800s.
The land has been used by Western Forest Products and the Department of National Defence, but the darkest history of the land is that the Nanaimo Indian Hospital once stood there. Its history is considered by many to be even darker than that of Indian Residential Schools.
“It’s an emotional day for Snuneymuxw knowing the history of that piece of property, but also the opportunity moving forward, it gives us excitement,” Wyse added. “This is a first step in what I believe to be many more steps that rightfully restores the land back to the community. This is not federal land, this is your land,” said Anandasangaree.
Parts of the land have already been designated for things like residential use, commercial developments, greenspace and a new health centre. “Yeah. for Snuneymuxw, you know, our landbase is very small so to get any piece of land that was developable for our people, for future generations, we’re very excited for that to come back to Snuneymuxw,” Wyse said.
But why did it take so long?
In 2003, the Liberal government offered it, but only if the Snunaymuxw gave up its rights and title under the treaty of 1854. Then, in 2009 the Conservative government flat out said it would not be returned as reserve land.
“In 2009, my late mother, Chief Viola Wyse, was at the negotiating table alongside Counsellor William Yoachim and the late Dave Mannix. The government at that time was firm in its position: The former DND lands would never become additions to reserve land,” said Wyse.
“Today, Snuneymuxw Council is honoured to finalize these additions to reserve land as a tribute to our ancestors and as a commitment to serving our future generations. The path of reconciliation we are walking alongside Crown-Indigenous Relations has proven to be a positive way forward for our people and all connected to this sacred territory. Today is a profound step in a journey that will continue to see more milestones like this one. This is our legacy and our responsibility,” said Wyse.
“You know, part of me is also frustrated because it has taken so long to get here. I wish it hadn’t taken this long,” said Anandasangaree.
But finally Saturday there was a new beginning and a chance to move on.
“We can not forget ever, but we can not be stuck,” said Snuneymuxw Councillor William Yoachim. “We have to go forward and be stronger so that’s what today is about, healing and celebration.”