The chief of the We Wai Kai First Nation is not pleased the Strathcona Regional District may seek heritage protection for the Cape Mudge Lighthouse.
Chief Ralph Dick says the land surrounding the Quadra Island lightstation belongs to the We Wai Kai/Cape Mudge Band and he doesn’t understand why the Regional District is trying to protect a lighthouse it does not have direct access to.
“We want them to just butt out, we don’t want them involved at all,” Dick says. “They can’t get at it by road or water, it’s our land all around it, so we’re quite upset they’re trying to muscle in there.
“We’re planning to keep it the way it is, we’re not planning to rip it down or anything because it’s of value to us.”
The staffed, fully-functioning Cape Mudge Lighthouse is one of four stations in the Strathcona Regional District and could be nominated for protection from demolition or sale by the Canadian Coast Guard through the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.
In order to be nominated, a petition with 25 signatures must be submitted to Parks Canada.
The Regional District considered a report last week to nominate the Cape Mudge, Chatham Point, and Lookout Island lighthouses for heritage designation but directors asked for more information and will re-consider any action next month.
Dick wants to see the Cape Mudge Lighthouse protected but doesn’t want the Regional District’s help.
“We’ve been at this a long time and now one of these Johnny-come-latelys come in and try to take over,” Dick says.
“They didn’t even consult with us and (instead) they go in and do whatever they please.”
Jim Abram, vice-chair of the Strathcona Regional District Board and an advocate for lighthouses and their keepers for 25 years, says he only has the best interests of the lighthouse in mind and although the surrounding lands are owned by the First Nations, the lighthouse itself is not.
“The building is owned by the Coast Guard and will continue to be owned by the Federal Government no matter what,” Abram says. “Even if the (We Wai Kai) First Nations claimed the land as theirs, it would still be owned and operated by the Coast Guard, it’s part of their mandate.”
Abram says he figured Dick would be happy to see the lighthouse acquire heritage status.
“It’s got nothing to do with the land or title or Aboriginal rights, it just has to do with the building itself,” Abram says. “He knows as well as I do that the Coast Guard is our worst enemy as far as lightstations are concerned.
“They’ve never done anything that could quantify as favourable towards lightstations.”
Dick says the bottom line is “we just don’t like things being rammed down our throat” and the We Wai Kai feel the Regional District has taken them for granted.
Battle for land
The two acres of land the Cape Mudge Lighthouse sits on was expropriated from the We Wai Kai First Nation by the Government of Canada in 1898 “in a private transaction behind closed doors and without the knowledge or permission from our ancestors,” Dick says.
The First Nation has been in dispute with the federal government for more than 50 years over the land and improvements but recently the government offered the land back.
Dick says the We Wai Kai were unable to accept the land back because it had suffered from contamination.
However, the government this year completed a clean-up of the land and again offered it back.
“They gave it back to us but we didn’t accept it right away because of some conditions our lawyers were not happy with,” Dick says.
The We Wai Kai and the federal government are still currently in negotiations to reach a settlement but Dick says he can’t comment on any specifics.