Friday May 12, 2017

'Reconciliation in its best form': B.C. rancher gives land back to his First Nation neighbours

The Esk'etemc First Nation in B.C. has always maintained its rights to the land and water in the area.

The Esk'etemc First Nation in B.C. has always maintained its rights to the land and water in the area. (Esk'etemc Public Page/Facebook )

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When an 86-year-old retired rancher donated half his land to a B.C. First Nation this week, it was not so much a gift as an act of reconciliation, says Esk'etemc Chief Charlene Belleau.

"When he talked with me, I thought, you know, this is reconciliation in its best form," Belleau told As It Happens host Carol Off. "He's not just talking about reconciliation; he's actually doing something about it."

Kenneth Linde bought 260 hectares of land on the east side of the Fraser River near Alkali Lake, B.C., in 1961 and worked on it for decades.

His family owns the nearby sawmill that employed many members of the Indigenous community, Belleau said, and he has long been a friend and trusted neighbour to the Indigenous community.

'He said, "When I bought the land ... I paid for it. Every year since I bought the land, I've paid my taxes so I could continue to use it. But I've always, always known it's your land. I would like to give it back to you.' - Chief Charlene Belleau

Still, the Esk'etemc have always believed the land and the water belong to them.

"We've been strong advocates for title and rights for years. We've always believed that the land was ours," Belleau said. "Even with Kenneth Linde and other parties around us, we've always known that they bought the land and they're using it, but this land is all of ours."

When Linde was no longer able to keep up the land, he moved to a seniors' home in nearby Williams Lake and decided to give 130 hectares back to the Esk'etemc First Nation. He surprised Belleau and the band council with the news last week.

"He said, 'When I bought the land ... I paid for it. Every year since I bought the land, I've paid my taxes so I could continue to use it. But I've always, always known it's your land. I would like to give it back to you,'" Belleau said. "And I thought, you know, wow. It was that simple for him."

As It Happens was unable to reach Linde for comment.

Chief Charlene Belleau

Chief Charlene Bealleau says Kenneth's Linde's gift of land was really him giving back to Esk'etemc First Nation what was rightfully theirs all along. (Esk'etemc First Nation)

The community, Belleau says, has been actively involved in the reconciliation process, participating in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and fighting for Canada's residential schools apology.

"To me, the apology, the TRC has come and gone, but I guess with Kenneth Linde, it's giving substance to the apology. It's giving substance to the TRC through his actions," she said. 

Belleau announced the gift during a Esk'etemc title and rights ceremony and celebration on Monday, led by the First Nation's youth.

gym ceremony

Belleau announced the gift during a declaration of Esk'etemc title and rights ceremony on Monday — a youth-led celebration. (Esk'etemc Public Page/Facebook)

"Our ancestors, years ago, knew that our people would go through a hard time with other people — that they would take our land, that they would put us in residential schools, that they would put us in foster homes, they would incarcerate us, that we would go through very difficult times. So the Creator gave them a song and a ceremony to heal from that," Belleau said.

"So when we had this big day with Kenneth Linde on Monday and we did our declaration of title and rights, it's our children asking us to let go of everything that's happened to us in the past, to be able to be forgiving, to be stronger for what we've been through and to be able to move on into the future. Our children led the way on Monday. And it was, it was — I can't even express it, it was so, so beautiful."