Cowichan Tribes says it’s being held hostage by the City of Duncan over a development on the reserve.
The First Nation says the city is refusing to connect a development on the reserve to sewer and water without a long-term service agreement that includes fees for roads.
The nation says instead of paying fees to the city to use the street it should be compensated by the government for its use.
The development is a six-floor, 96-unit building that’s nearing completion on Government Street, a street Cowichan Tribes say was improperly taken by the government nearly 100 years ago.
The nation also says it receives nothing from the city for the use of its roads.
“We’re feeling a little bit at hostage here,” said Jodee Dick, Cowichan Tribe’s general manager. “We have a development that’s almost completed, we have no water and no services and unless we agree to a 10-year agreement with both direct and indirect costs and a fee to access a road that is still reserve land or we won’t get hooked up.”
The First Nation says it’s willing to pay for the hook-up of water and sewer but not for road access.
“We’re opposing indirect costs and those indirect fees are fees that should be staying on reserve to support our infrastructure and to support our economic initiatives,” said Dick.
“We didn’t need to get here. This could’ve been avoided, should’ve been avoided,” said Cindy Daniels, Cowichan Tribes Acting Cheif. “We are trying to do self-government.”
But the city’s mayor says Cowichan Tribes has never taken this position before and it’s trying to reach a solution with them.
“The laws that govern the city, the rules that we work by, there’s this incongruency and there hasn’t been policy change at a provincial level,” said mayor Michelle Staples. “There hasn’t been a process developed working with local governments, and the province and first nations to get through some of these challenges.”
Staples says the community charter states a benefit can’t be given to a for-profit company and there is one partnering with Cowichan Tribes on this development.
The First Nation says without hookup there will be delays and financial challenges.
“The city of Duncan seems to be viewing Cowichan through a colonial lens where they’re viewing us as being subordinate to them,” said Dick.
In a statement to CHEK News, the province said “to better understand the concerns and to determine how best to support the Nation and the city in reaching a resolution, Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation met with leadership from Cowichan Tribes on June 17 and Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs met with officials from the City of Duncan on June 30.
“In addition, the Ministry of Transportation continues to hold ongoing discussions with Cowichan Tribes regarding the status of roads on Cowichan reserves.”
The province has appointed a facilitator to meet with both sides Wednesday.