A local First Nation will consult its membership about best possible uses for the former Woodwynn Farm property after assuming possession of it on Dec. 16, following what has been described as “a historic agreement” with the provincial government.
Tsartlip First Nation Chief Don Tom said his nation is excited to acquire the 78-hectare property because it will help the nation expand its land base. The land, once used by the Tsartlip First Nation for hunting, farming and traditional practices, lies next to the nation’s only reserve. With more than 1,000 members, the community has run out of space to fulfill housing, recreational and cultural needs.
Tsartlip First Nation purchased the farm from BC Housing through a $7.77-million grant from the provincial government. BC Housing purchased the site in July 2018 and has leased it to a local farmer, who is actively farming the property. That lease has been extended to September 2021.
Tsartlip First Nation now owns the land as ordinary private property within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The transfer of the property also bears significance “with the history of colonization in the Saanich Peninsula, Tsartlip people lost much of our land base, our traditional communities,” said Tom in a release.
Joe Seward, Tsartlip councillor, also touched on this aspect. “It is very meaningful to our people to have this land returned to our Nation, physically and spiritually, land that was taken away. We want to reawaken the land, heal the land and bring the sacredness back.”
Paul Sam (Telaxten), Tsartlip councillor and elder, referenced the larger historical context in describing the area’s role in the Tsartlip people’s traditional hunting and fishing grounds. “My grandfather grew fruit and vegetables here,” he said. “But our people were outnumbered, outgunned and pushed onto small reserves. Sir James Douglas signed a treaty with our leadership at Pkols, Mount Douglas. But the treaty was not honoured, and our reserve got smaller and smaller.”
Canada’s system of residential schools caused further damage, he said, pointing to its effects on Indigenous children and local languages.
“I know the history and place names and culture of this territory we call Mawuec,” Sam said. “Recently, I graduated with my youngest son from the Indigenous Language Revitalization Program at the University of Victoria, where I also learned to read and write in my language. Now I have grandchildren who are also fluent from taking the immersion program at our tribal school. We are reclaiming our rightful history.”
New Democrat Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said the transfer offers the Tsartlip people a huge opportunity for the future.
“It is a tremendous step forward to advance reconciliation between the provincial government and Tsartlip First Nation,” he said in the release. “We are committed to working collaboratively, government-to-government, to find creative and flexible ways to meet the needs of individual First Nations throughout B.C. as we work together to support communities and their members to flourish and prosper.”
Tsartlip First Nation has announced that it will hold a ceremony celebrating the return of Mawuec to the community with the provincial government once authorities say it is safe to do so against the backdrop of COVID-19.
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