British Columbia

Snuneymuxw First Nation agrees to $49M in compensation for downtown Nanaimo reserve

'When we lost that reserve, it was a big hit to our nation, it was 80 acres of downtown Nanaimo, it caused a lot of harm, it's caused a lot of grief,' says Acting Chief Douglas White after historic vote.

79-acre reserve set up around 1860 alienated through development and litigation

This map shows a parcel of land in 1860 that was to be reserve land for the Snuneymuxw First Nation in what is now downtown Nanaimo. (Snuneymuxw First Nation)

The leader of the Snuneymuxw First Nation says a historic vote to accept a land-claim settlement offered by the federal government will help members come home.

This weekend, the Snuneymuxw First Nation announced that 98 per cent of voters said yes to a more than $49-million settlement for the loss of 79 acres of land in what is now downtown Nanaimo. The land was set aside around the year 1860 to create a reserve for the Snuneymuxw, but the Canadian governments of the day never delivered it.

"People in part, you know, moved away because of the lack of land and a lack of anywhere to live," said acting chief Douglas White on Sunday.

White says the Snuneymuxw First Nation has a membership of nearly 2,000 people, with two-thirds living in cities like Nanaimo, Vancouver and Seattle, and the rest on six small parcels of other reserve lands.

"We are one of the largest First Nations in the province by population, but we have one of the smallest land bases, if not the smallest base per capita, in part because of the loss of this reserve," he said.

The settlement has been decades in the making, with elders telling councillors in the 1980s that the reserve had been wrongfully taken.

'Breached lawful obligation'

The nation did its own historical research, which was corroborated by the federal government by 2003.

"Canada had breached its lawful obligation to the First Nation, in that the reserve was lost to the First Nation without compliance with the formal acts of surrender required under the Indian Act, without the consent of the Snuneymuxw and without any compensation," read the 2008 Annual Report from the Indian Land Claims Commission.

On Twitter, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Carolyn Bennett reacted to the Snuneymuxw First Nation's press release Sunday by saying she was, "looking forward to implementing this settlement agreement in partnership."

The settlement money will be placed in a trust, which will be used for long-term benefits, such as acquiring land, according to White, who also says that members will see disbursements over the next year.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation has been working towards compensation for the 79-acre plot of land for the past 25 years. The money will be put in a trust and used, in part, for acquiring land to house members. (Snuneymuxw First Nation)

The agreement also includes an application for the First Nation to be granted 79 acres of land elsewhere and a side agreement to negotiate the transfer of former lands — some 200 acres, according to White — that were held by the Department of Defence, but given to Aboriginal Affairs about 15 years ago.

"If we're able to bring it back into Snuneymuxw, then it would be a big benefit for the region as a whole," said White, who also says the $49-million settlement is the largest specific-claim settlement in province's history.