Was the B.C. Liberal government’s trotting out of local First Nations leaders to sign another treaty this week a case of pre-election grandstanding?
Or was it the legitimate announcement of the latest significant step in the B.C. treaty process?
Probably a little of both. Regardless of the timing of the transfer of lands to five First Nations, including the Songhees, aboriginal communities stand to benefit greatly from the deal signed Tuesday at the B.C. legislature.
The properties signed over to the Songhees, for example, include the current site of a government liquor store at Esquimalt and Admirals roads, the Provincial Capital Commission office building on Pandora Avenue and a parking lot in James Bay.
The deal does not exempt the bands from paying property tax, but the acquisition price is right. The potential economic foothold the Songhees and others gain as landlords, developers or vendors could be significant – they can manage the properties how they see fit, within local rules and regulations.
The key word here is potential. Governments, business and individuals can help empower our aboriginal communities and enhance self-sufficiency through the transfer of lands, offering business coaching services, buying handcrafted products or even mentoring youth. From there, First Nations need to take the next steps themselves.
It’s already happening in some areas. The Songhees are well into the construction of their $16-million health, administration and recreation centre in Esquimalt. And they are partners with Esquimalt Nation in Salish Sea Industrial Services, a marine-based company.
Adding a trio of revenue properties to the mix – if managed well – could further stabilize our aboriginal communities through creating long-term employment for people who have struggled to find work.
The first concrete land agreement in 20 years for the Songhees shows progress in the willingness of the province and First Nations leaders to do what it takes to move closer to finalizing settlements. It also shows more trust in First Nations that they can be good stewards of urban lands, not just those around reserves.