First Nations to Kits Coast Guard to First Nations to…Connect the dots

24 Feb

Photo courtesy Native Village

A very interesting bit from Sam Cooper in the Sunday edition of The Province.

Cooper’s story adds to the already tangled tale of the highly-controversial closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base last week. Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang and BC Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair both have comments in the piece; Sinclair had revealed the internal federal government memo to Global News on Friday, but Jang added the First Nations element on Saturday.

Two items from Cooper’s story:

In separate interviews Saturday, both told The Province the memo appears to explain the puzzling politics behind the Kits base closure.

“The closure was all so sudden and dramatic,” Jang said.

“It seems like the federal government is pushing the closure of the base so that they can make a land deal, so they can get revenue and balance their books, at the expense of safety of Vancouver mariners.”


The federal memo to which Jang refers, also obtained by The Province, says federal agencies have “presented the First Nation equity proposal for the Jericho Beach, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and RCMP site,” in a land negotiation that the government wants to wrap up by May or June 2013.

“This proposal unlocks the value of these properties for the economic benefit of all parties … [and the negotiation must establish] a joint-venture agreement between First Nations and Canada Lands Company which will capture the nature of the partnership,” says the memo, which does not identify the First Nations involved.

There are three nations that have laid past claims on the area; in 2002 the Skwxwúmesh won a court case ceding land underneath and adjacent to the Burrard Bridge, re-establishing what is known as Kitsilano Indian Reserve no. 6. It had taken twenty five years for the case to be resolved.

Image from UBC Indigenous Foundations

The yellow shaded area consists of land that was formerly used by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a right-of-way for rail traffic in and around False Creek, up until the late 1970s.

Since winning their case – which also featured counter-claims by the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh Nations – the Skwxwúmesh haven’t done much with the land, beyond installing a video advertising board on the north side of the bridge. The land is otherwise overgrown and gated off.

This is where things get tricky. If you look carefully at the map above, you can make out the rough outline of the largest extent of the reserve, as it existed in 1877. Beginning in 1899, that land began to be chipped away. In fact, in an odd twist, the east-west leg of the current claim is actually the first section of land expropriated from the original reserve, to build the original CPR line. There was a rail trestle that connected to the strip and was only demolished in 1982.

There was a native community on the land until, beginning in 1913, the residents began to be coerced from their land. The booming grounds of False Creek made for a growing sawmill industry and the southern end of the reserve was sold to a logging company. Residents were moved elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

A number of those displaced residents moved to the Musqueam reserve on the south edge of Point Grey – this explains the more modern interest by the Musqueam nation in determining the status of the reserve.

In subsequent years, the land was used chiefly by the Department of National Defence. After the Second World War, the Department of Indian Affairs got the Skwxwúmesh council to surrender their rights to the land so that it could be sold off.

So, the Skwxwúmesh hold land adjacent to the coast guard base; the coast guard base sits on land that was formerly reserve land; current members of the Musqueam nation would seem to have ancestral connections to this same land, though they don’t currently have a legal status to it; and though the Tsleil-Waututh also made a counter-claim, logic points to the land deal alluded to in the email being with the Skwxwúmesh.

A story from Business in Vancouver from June 2012:

Squamish First Nation (SFN) plans for two multi-storey towers on eight acres of reserve land at the south end of Burrard Bridge are rai sing concerns because the band has thus far said little about the project.

“We don’t have anything for an interview,” the SFN spokeswoman Krisandra Jacobs told Business in Vancouver. “Our department of intergovernmental relations, natural resources and revenue [is] reviewing the project, so we don’t have an update.”

Some fear that construction on the project, which is expected to include one 35-storey and one 28-storey tower, is set to start next year and will affect area residents when hundreds of future residents use city services.

From that same story:

Because the SFN is one of a number of Canadian native bands covered by the First Nations Land Management Act, it doesn’t require civic approval for development on that land or its reserve land near the Burrard Bridge.

So what are we left with? The Feds have a land deal they apparently want to seal up, apparently with a First Nation and there’s already a First Nation with development plans in the area.

You figure it out.


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