City of Victoria offers support to Songhees Nation in treaty negotiations
The Songhees hope the support will help pave the way for a final agreement with B.C. and Canada
When the province is ready to hand urban land over to the Songhees Nation, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says her city won't stand in the way.
She said so formally in a ceremony Friday, when she handed a letter of support to Songhees Chief Ron Sam.
The Songhees Nation is part of the Te'mexw Treaty Association, a group of five nations working together to negotiate a modern treaty with B.C. and Canada.
The association first came to the table in 1994, and is now at stage five of the six stages in B.C.'s decades-long treaty process. It's the last stage before implementation, and details are being hammered out to come to a final package which nation members then vote to ratify.
Treaty settlement lands are one of the elements up for negotiation. In the case of the Songhees, this includes the land of their reserve in Esquimalt, as well as some crown land within municipalities that will be transferred to the Nation. Once they are, those lands are no longer part of the municipality — meaning they don't have to follow bylaws, or fit into development guidelines set by the official community plan.
In Victoria, there are three properties at play: 613 and 615 Pandora, which was already transferred to the Songhees, as well as 1112 Wharf Street, and 430 Menzies Street.
While the city does not own the land, and is not a party to treaty negotiations, Mayor Helps says it is stepping up now to make it clear to the province that it will not dispute the transfers.
"The province, and Canada, consider municipalities make or break," said Helps. "We can either get in the way, or we can stand by and support. And we're choosing to stand and support."
Chief Ron Sam says the support means a lot, and that it will go a long way in negotiations with the province.
"So I'm happy to bring this letter forward at our next treaty meeting," said Sam.
Sam says he doesn't know what the nation will do with the land yet, but that it will provide economic opportunities for the Songhees — something leaders before him were seeking when they first entered the treaty process over 25 years ago.
A city family
Both Sam and Helps were emotional at Friday's ceremony. They say their councils and staff have been working hard to build meaningful relationships that go beyond just intergovernmental meetings. It began when the city wanted to create a reconciliation task force, and the Songhees and neighbouring Esquimalt Nations suggested making a 'city family' instead.
"Because, in Lekwungen culture, the family is the unit of governance," Helps learned.
Sam says the fact that they share meals together, and attend ceremony together, allows real reconciliation work to be done.
"The more we stand together, the more we show our citizens that, 'Hey, I'm no different than you. I have the same goals as you, maybe a bit different, but at the end of the day, our community is here, and our community wants to thrive going into the future."
As for the treaty process, Chief Sam hopes it can all be wrapped up within three years.