The Tlowitsis First Nation says it’s “disappointed” by the reaction of Area D residents to its proposal to establish a reservation on York Road.
Thomas Smith, economic development officer with the Tlowitsis, was reacting to ‘No Rez’ messages spray painted on signs marking the proposed development site as well as on the road nearby.
“We’ve been pretty disappointed,” Smith said. “We anticipated some blow back but the amount of nasty comments were a little surprising. We’re quite shocked by it, that it went to that high a level.”
The push back is over the Tlowitsis’ application to the federal government to be given reserve status by the Additions to Reserves process through Indigenous Affairs.
Smith said the Nation is close to completing its application package and is now looking for a letter of support from the Strathcona Regional District.
“We want to keep an open door but it’s going to be interesting trying to resolve this,” Smith said. “We’d like to hope that cooler heads will prevail.”
Area D resident Marion Burkell agrees. At a meeting between the regional district’s electoral directors last week, she condemned the actions of those who spray painted the negative messages.
“The applicants are people too and deserve respect no matter the outcome of this,” she said. “What is not welcome here are those responsible for the spray paint and the graffiti to the signs and roadway on York Road. It’s a beautiful area to live and hopefully rural life will calm again once questions are answered, plans are made and new neighbours are settled.”
Plans for the reserve – which would serve as a home for roughly 100 of the Tlowitsis’ 425 members who are spread out among the remote coastal areas of northeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland inlets – came to light nearly three weeks ago, though the project has been in the works for several years.
Area D residents packed last week’s electoral directors meeting to air their concerns over a proposal they said they never saw coming because of confidentiality agreements.
Bob Solc, vice-president of the Area D Ratepayers Association, said the neighbourhood was not properly informed.
“I believe we need to be more open and transparent,” Solc said. “Everybody we’ve talked to has been left in the cold on this.”
Others said they were concerned that having a reserve near their home would devalue their property.
“I have no issue with anybody buying private land, whether it be First Nations or anybody, but I do take issue with the petition to turn it into reserve lands,” said Peter Sprout, who lives near the proposed reserve site. “Call it bias or not but there is a stigmatism associated with a reservation.”
Long-time Area D Resident Terry Honig said there are still too many unanswered questions.
“The affected residents have numerous grave concerns about this proposed development and its effects both short and long term, on our quiet rural community,” Honig said. “A few of the residents’ grave concerns: environmental issues, water septic and drainage; traffic and highway access, safety for our community; loss of tax revenue; schooling, SD72 is closing Oyster River Elementary; fire protection. There are many more concerns from the Area D residents but we as a district have not had any time to act. Area D residents deserve to have input.”
Area D Director Brenda Leigh agreed and said she couldn’t support the proposal as things stand.
“I am not in favour of locating an Addition to Reserve at this point because, as far as I am concerned, the consultation has not begun,” Leigh said. “I wish to make it clear that until the public consultation process happens with Area D people, there is no done deal.”
Electoral directors voted at their meeting last week to defer making a decision on writing a letter of support for the Tlowitsis until regional district staff report back with more information on the impacts of the proposed reserve.
Smith said the purpose of establishing a new reserve for the Nation is to build a home community that is easily accessible. He said it’s “not practical” to build on the Tlowitsis traditional territory which encompasses an area north of Kelsey Bay toward Beaver Cove (including Turnour Island), and has no schools or health services and can only be accessed by water or air.