Thousands of hectares of land will be returned to a First Nation in Campbell River amid a treaty negotiation process a quarter century in the making, according to its chief.
At a community celebration, the Province of B.C. signed an Incremental Treaty Agreement (ITA) to transfer 2,276 hectares of territorial lands back to the Wei Wai Kum First Nation.
The land transfer comes to boost the Nation’s participation in the forest industry and give its 850 members, who reside in the mid-Vancouver Island and Discovery Island areas, more space for cultural and harvesting activities.
In a news release, B.C.’s ministry of Indigenous relations and reconciliation said that the ITA parcels represent a potential allowable annual timber harvest of 17,054 cubic metres, valued at $1.2 million annually.
“Crown lands were carefully selected to balance support for Wei Wai Kum’s interests and maintenance of public access to popular recreation sites such as Loveland Bay Provincial Park and areas required for B.C. timber sales operations,” the ministry said in the release.
A small number of campsites at three locations are also within the ITA lands and will be managed by Wei Wai Kum, it added.
In a statement, Chief Chris Roberts said the agreement and transfer of land back to the Nation marks a “significant milestone” in the treaty negotiations process and ongoing journey of reconciliation.
“We have been engaged in the treaty negotiations process for 25 years, and that is too long to await resolution to the questions of land ownership and access to resources, while everything carries on around us, business as usual, and the value of our lands continues to diminish,” said Roberts.
“We are now the rightful beneficial owners of these land parcels and will resume management and utilization in a sustainable manner that balances economic, environmental and recreational values, and this will benefit all residents of the surrounding area in our territory,” he said.
According to the B.C. government, ITAs allow First Nations and the province to enjoy shared benefits in advance of a final agreement.
It says the province, federal government and Wei Wai Kum are currently in the final phases of treaty negotiations, meaning the lands transferred under this ITA are an “early benefit” as the closing treaty is negotiated.
The tripartite treaty negotiations have been underway since 1997, with ITA discussions between the Nation and B.C. regarding this specific land parcel ongoing since 2019.