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PHOTOS: For the first time ever, a private landowner gifts land back to Lheidli T’enneh

In an act of reconciliation, a private landowner has gifted two parcels of land in Willow River back to the Lheidli T’enneh.

“We believe this is the first time a property owner in our territory has ever gifted our nation privately owned land,” said Lheidli T’enneh Chief Clay Pountney.

To thank former landowner Penelope Harris, Chief Pountney presented Harris with a gift of a blanket and Lheidli T’enneh jacket at the Uda Dune Baiyoh Ancestors Hall this morning (April 17).

Harris bought the two parcels in Willow River, which are in Lheidli T’enneh traditional territory, sight-unseen when she heard about the construction of the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in the early '90s.

She said there was optimism that Prince George would grow as the university grew, and she thought it would be a good investment. 

However, as the parcels are in a still undeveloped area of Willow River she decided to put the two 6000 sq ft. parcels up for sale a few years ago without any success.

“I was thrilled when I contacted the Western Canada Wilderness Committee who suggested this as an option,” said Harris. “I didn’t know I could do this, and it was made so easy for me.”

Harris' gift is one of the only instances in B.C. where a private landowner has gifted land back to a First Nation.

In May 2017, an 86-year-old Cariboo Rancher named Kenneth Linde gifted his land back to the Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation, after realizing he couldn’t take care of it himself any longer.

“I am very pleased and honoured to be here,” said Harris. “I didn’t expect this kind of recognition from something I thought was rather small. I wanted the land to be taken care of.”

The approximate value of the two lots is roughly $5,700 each.

In regards to what will now happen to the land, Chief Pountney said it’s something Lheidi T’enneh will have to look into.

“It’s something you can’t put a price on for our people — it’s a very gracious and generous gift,” said Chief Pountney. “For now it’s a token of reconciliation in action.”

Harris said she thanks the Lheidli T’enneh for being stewards of their traditional lands.

“I’m seeing now that it means a whole lot more than I ever thought it would,” said Harris of her gift.