Home­less B.C. Indige­nous Na­tion buys land on Van­cou­ver Is­land to build and cre­ate a new com­mu­nity

Penticton Herald - - HOMES - By DIRK MEISSNER


CAMP­BELL RIVER — Thomas Smith says his most vivid mem­ory of liv­ing on Bri­tish Columbia’s Turnour Is­land was watch­ing fam­i­lies leave their homes.

Five decades later, im­ages of the ex­o­dus from the Indige­nous vil­lage of Kalag­wees are just as clear, he said.

“I was pretty young at the time,” 60-yearold Smith said. “I was one year at the pri­mary school there and then the fam­ily moved.”

Jobs were scarce in the vil­lage ac­ces­si­ble only by boat or float plane, he said of his for­mer home north­east of Van­cou­ver Is­land in the John­stone Strait.

The com­mu­nity be­gan to empty as the school closed and hospi­tal boat vis­its to the re­mote com­mu­nity were can­celled.

“The vil­lage went quiet,” Smith said. “There were a few adults liv­ing there but the ma­jor­ity of the fam­i­lies moved. Some went to Alert Bay, oth­ers moved to Camp­bell River and some even fur­ther to Van­cou­ver, Vic­to­ria, wher­ever they found a place com­fort­able.”

The es­ti­mated 450 mem­bers of the Tlow­it­sis First Na­tion haven’t had a per­ma­nent home since then. But that is about to change, Smith said. The na­tion paid $3.5 mil­lion ear­lier this year for a 257-hectare ru­ral, forested prop­erty eight kilo­me­tres south of Camp­bell River. Plans are now un­der­way to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity of up to 100 homes, he said.

“One of our hered­i­tary chiefs, be­fore he passed away, said he wanted a place for my peo­ple to have a home. This is ba­si­cally a prom­ise kept. The chief was my old­est brother Alec.”

Frogs croak, ravens squawk and ve­hi­cles drive past as Smith stands at the steel gate and sign that mark the site in the Strath­cona Re­gional Dis­trict.

The new com­mu­nity will be called Ne­nag­was, which means “a place to come home to,” Smith said. Last De­cem­ber, the fed­eral govern­ment ap­proved the prop­erty as Tlow­it­sis re­serve 12.

P“This place in 30 years could be a very large place,” Smith said. “Indige­nous peo­ple have lots of ba­bies. It’s go­ing to be an ex­cit­ing place for our young peo­ple to grow up.”

En­gi­neer­ing and plan­ning stud­ies are un­der­way and the na­tion ex­pects to break ground in 2020, bring­ing the dream of a new home com­mu­nity much closer to re­al­ity, he said.

“We need a place for our mem­bers to get to­gether and share things and learn their cul­ture, their his­tory. What it means to be Tlow­it­sis,” Smith said. “This will help.”

Brenda Leigh, the Strath­cona Re­gional Dis­trict’s elected area direc­tor, said lo­cal res­i­dents had con­cerns about a lack of con­sul­ta­tion, but now the fo­cus is on de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture like sewage and trans­porta­tion and fit­ting the Tlow­it­sis com­mu­nity into the sprawl­ing, ru­ral neigh­bour­hood.

“I am sure that they will love this set­ting and they will have an op­por­tu­nity to build their re­serve and en­joy the same peace­ful life that all of us value so much in this re­gion,” Leigh said in an emailed state­ment.

Smith said early re­ac­tion to the Tlow­it­sis plan was shrill and con­cerned his band mem­bers. Graf­fiti with the words “No Rez” was painted on a road near the com­mu­nity site.

The First Na­tion de­cided to move ahead with its plans and has met with the re­gional dis­trict board and lo­cal com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions, Smith said.

“We’re here now,” he said. “You can see by our sign, we’re here and we’re go­ing to start de­vel­op­ing as soon as we can.”

Thomas Smith

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