British Columbia

Matsqui First Nation makes claim for loss of reserve land dating back 155 years

The claim says that the Colony of British Columbia sold off 99 per cent of the 9,600 acres of reserve land the First Nation was allotted in 1864.

In 1864, the Matsqui Nation was allotted 9,600 acres of land. The Colony of B.C. sold off nearly all of it

The view from Mission south across the Fraser River toward Matsqui. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

The Matsqui First Nation wants federal compensation for the historic loss of almost all of its Indian reservation land going back 155 years.

According to the claim, 99 per cent of the 9,600 acres allotted to the Matsqui in 1864 was pre-empted and sold to settlers by the former Colony of British Columbia in an "unlawful reduction of its Indian reserve."

The claim states that Canada is responsible for the actions of the former colony.

"The reconciliation of this claim has been a priority for Matsqui for many years," said Chief Alice McKay. "Resolving historical grievances with Matsqui is critical to renewing our relationship with Canada and advancing reconciliation."

McKay says the origins of the claim can be traced back to Joseph Trutch, who would become B.C.'s first lieutenant-governor in 1871. 

As chief commissioner of lands in the 1860's, Trutch led a profound reversal of Indian lands policy, ignoring existing treaties and allowing reserves to be shrunk and sold off to settlers.

A tiny sliver of the original reserve exists today as Matsqui Main Indian Reserve No. 2 at the north end of Abbotsford between Harris Road and the Fraser River.

McKay says the Matsqui have been working for over 10 years and using the input of a historian to bring the claim forward. 

According to Matsqui Coun. Brenda Morgan, the claim is not aimed at private land owners or people living in Abbotsford. 

"This is about truth-seeking and justice for our people. We want closure on this matter so our people can heal and we can all progress together in this great region we all call home."

The claim is being brought under Canada's Specific Claim Policy which says, in part, that bands that suffered losses or damage as a consequence of the federal government breaching its lawful obligations are owed compensation.

McKay says she expects the claim process to take at least three years but has no sense of what compensation would look like if successful.

According to the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the traditional territory of the Matsqui follows the south side of the Fraser River between Crescent Island and Sumas Mountain, and southward past the Canada-U.S. border.