SIS?ENEM (Halibut Island), just off Sidney Island has been returned to the W?SÁNE? peoples in a historic act of reconciliation.
The Island’s title was handed over by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) Friday to the W?SÁNE? Leadership Council.
TLC says it’s the first time a land trust will voluntarily transfer title to an Indigenous community in Canada.
“We are creating history today and we are excited to be a part of it,” said Chief Don Tom, chair of the W?SÁNE? Leadership Council.
“I hope this marks for things to come and this also tells me we don’t have to wait for government to wait for reconciliation.”
TLC purchased the 9.67-acre Island for $1.5 million with the help of a major donor and others.
“We believe it’s the first time in Canada,” said Cathy Armstrong, TLC Executive Director.
“It’s culturally significant, it’s also ecologically significant, so it will be a place for research and for the W?SÁNE? to go to social events, cultural events.”
Garry Aak, Arbutus, and Douglas Fir woodlands, along with open wildflower meadows dot the landscape.
It also marks the return of a significant piece of the W?SÁNE? people’s history.
“SIS?ENEM is a place where W?SÁNE? people fished for cod, gathered traditional medicine and harvested camas,” said Chief Tom.
“[It’s great] to have our young people and elders to have access to be able to harvest and go back to our places of mediation and prayers.”
Scientific research and educational programming will continue on the Island but fundraising is underway to get some final work done.
“It was lightly used but there are some items we need to remove,” said Armstrong. “Then we will be developing infrastructure there, just some basic things for research and shelter if the elders go out.”
The Island’s name roughly translates to “enjoying the sun.”
“That’s exactly what we are enjoying right at this moment,” added Armstrong.
A small island setting a big precedent for reconciliation country-wide.