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First Nation reclaims land in Squamish

The Squamish Nation says it will be using the area — near Stawamus IR 24 reserve — for residential purposes to help alleviate the effects of the housing crisis.
The area that was gained back by the Nation.

The Squamish Nation has secured an additional 20 acres to its reserve lands around Totem Hall, which will help provide homes for members in a time where a housing crisis is sweeping the province.

Coun. Syeta’xtn (Chris Lewis) heralded the development as a landmark in returning land back to the Nation.

“It's going to be part of bringing our people home and part of adding it to the current Stawamus reserve, IR 24, is that it's going to be used for residential purposes for Nation members, noting that the housing demand is very high, and we're in a housing crisis just like everyone else,” said Lewis. “So that's the definite purpose of this addition to the reserve.”

The land that’s been reclaimed by the Nation was previously known as the Mortensen property.

At the moment, officials are still deciding what the housing will look like, so few details have been hammered out.

There’s also a potential for using some of the land for the Nation’s offices, and various other administrative purposes, he said.

Another exciting aspect of the addition is that it’s occurring to one of the villages of origin, Lewis said.

The Squamish Nation has several villages that were the homes of some of its first ancestors, and the reserve lands around Totem Hall, Stawamus IR 24, is one of them.
“We're absolutely adding to that village size because we weren’t confined to the boundaries of the reserve. In historical times, we would utilize the entirety of the space and the area, so, you know, [we’re] absolutely reclaiming our traditional homelands back.”

It’s been a long time coming.

Lewis said that the land transfer deal dates back to an agreement made with BC Rail in the 1990s.

However, even though the deal was made, it moved at a snail’s pace.

The federal government’s addition to reserve process was glacial, he said, as for a time, there was no clear process on how Indigenous people could take back land and add it to a reserve.

However, more recently, Indigenous Services Canada provided clear guidelines on how to make this happen, he said.

As a result, the Nation is finally seeing the fruits of the BC Rail deal.

Stretching back even further, Lewis said, the reclamation of the land rights historical wrongs that were made in the early 1900s.

Under the Oliver Act, which was instituted at the time, municipalities and companies were allowed to expropriate portions of reserves, clawing away at Indigenous land, including those of the Squamish Nation. This occurred even after the reserves were already surveyed in the 1800s.

“Basically, they cut the reserves in half or completely expropriated them and kind of stole the land back after they had given it to us,” Lewis said.

“This is really a process around reconciling that historic wrong around the cut-off lands.”

In the meantime, new possibilities await.

“We’re just super excited to announce it to our members that the land is back, and that we can start dreaming of what is possible,” Lewis said.