Tlowitsis hoping to create a ‘home community’

Reserve on York Road could aid in rebuilding identity and culture

The Tlowitsis Nation is hoping to create a reserve on York Road where it can establish a home community.

Strathcona Regional District (SRD) board members learned at their March 24 meeting that the Tlowitsis Nation has written the SRD requesting support for the nation’s proposed land development of five lots on York Road within Electoral Area D, just south of the City of Campbell River boundary.

“The Tlowitsis Nation finalized a purchase agreement with TimberWest through its Couverdon subsidiary for the establishment of a community over Lots 3 through 8 on York Road,” CAO Dave Leitch wrote in his report to council. “The Tlowitsis are in the final stages of completing an application to be given reserve status for these lands by the Additions to Reserves (ATR) process through Indigenous Affairs.”

In his report, Leitch told the board that “a number of communications” have occurred over the past two years between senior staff and the Tlowitsis First Nation regarding the potential purchase of private TimberWest lands in Electoral Area D. The most recent meeting was Dec. 8, 2015, when SRD staff and Electoral Area D director Brenda Leigh met with Thomas Smith of the Tlowitsis Nation. Leitch says that in this meeting, Smith advised that the Tlowitsis Nation currently consists of about 425 members, whose ancestral territory spans the remote coastal area of northeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland inlets.

“Due to the remoteness of their historic reserve lands, Mr. Smith expressed that these lands would provide the Tlowitsis a central home base for up to 100 members in an effort to bring the membership together and aid in the rebuilding of their identity and a strengthening of their culture and values,” wrote Leitch.

According to Leitch’s report, the Tlowitsis Nation finalized a purchase agreement with TimberWest on July 3, 2015, for Lots 3-8 on York Road, which adds up to about 624 acres.

Leitch says that at the Dec. 8 meeting, Smith presented copies of a formal land use plan that “recognizes and buffers” the established York Road community. The plan includes a 52-acre community development area, a 45-acre economic development area, a 315-acre environmental priority area and a 223-acre ecological conservation area.

The subject property sits outside the Agricultural Land Reserve and is bordered by similar swathes of forested lands, as well as rural and suburban-style residential, according to the Tlowitsis Nation’s draft Schematic Land Use Plan.

On March 8, the SRD received a letter from the Tlowitsis Nation requesting a formal letter from the regional district “which states that there are no grave concerns with regard to this land development and that the Regional District, more importantly that the board state it would be willing to meet with the Tlowitsis regarding potential service agreements (fire and public safety etc.).”

At its March 24 meeting, the board voted to refer the request for a letter to the April 6 meeting of the Electoral Area Services Committee prior to considering it further.

Campbell River director Andy Adams told the board that the chief and band councillor approached the City looking for a letter of support as well.

“When I read the staff report here, it talked about entering into negotiations for public safety and fire services that the regional district currently subcontracts from the City of Campbell River,” he said. “Appreciating that the Oyster River Fire Department also provides some fire services, I would just like to make it known that if the intent is to apply for [Indian Reserve] I.R. status for this property, then any negotiations with fire or public safety services would be directly with the City of Campbell River, not through the Strathcona Regional District.”

Campbell River director Charlie Cornfield said he wanted to add water to that list.

“My understanding is that prior to any land being put into I.R. status, they have to have a service agreement with the local government, and my concern is that they put in their request of the regional district that there are ‘no grave concerns,’” he said.

Electoral Area C director Jim Abram was concerned that this is the first time the regional district board has heard of this proposal.

“It’s the first time it’s come to us from the band and we’re being asked to make some very serious decisions when there could possibly be some very serious implications for the entire regional district, not just Area D,” he said. “We have, for example, loss of tax revenue … We don’t know if we have any grave concerns with the development; we haven’t seen it.”

Leitch told the board that staff’s intent at this meeting was to make the board aware of this development and discuss it in more detail with the Electoral Area Services Committee, which would then hopefully bring recommendations forward to the board.

“I know that change is often awkward and we resist it initially,” said Electoral Area B director Noba Anderson. “I’m hearing words around caution and loss of tax revenue, and I just want to say this can also be a really sweet opportunity to welcome a nation and welcome a community into this region.”