A 15-year process to add lands to the Haisla Nation’s reserve near Kitimat has now been completed following the signing of a federal ministerial order.
Seven parcels of land in the Minette Bay area totalling 276.45 hectares was added to Indian Reserve (IR) 5 Jugwees on Aug. 18, nearly doubling the size of the Haisla’s reserve lands.
Haisla Nation Chief Councillor Crystal Smith said the culmination of the lengthy process is “very emotional.”
“Having additional lands added to our reserves is a definitely monumental time, and very meaningful, not only for leadership but it is a huge significance for our elders that are with us to be able to witness this,” said Smith.
While grateful, Smith also said the process took far too long and cost far too much — especially since it righted a wrong that took place nearly 70 years ago.
That happened in 1952 when the federal government took a portion of IR 9 which today is near the Service Centre area of Kitimat.
The Haisla Nation submitted a claim against the federal government in 1986, resulting in a 1993 financial compensation settlement worth $430,000.
The Haisla then used this money to purchase seven parcels of land in 2006 and began filing the paperwork to add them to their reserve. Most of these plots were privately owned and purchased from their owners including two from Alcan (now Rio Tinto).
A series of steps followed, including environmental assessments and consulting with the District of Kitimat, neighbouring First Nations and the province.
For the federal government to be able to add land to a reserve, it has to be transferred from provincial to federal jurisdiction.
The final approval came when Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, signed an order last month.
Commenting on the lengthy process, Smith said she would like to see it more streamlined. The Haisla have two more parcels of land (Plot 305 and 306) that are next to be added to their reserve.
“We communicated to the federal government that it has to take less time, and definitely the cost associated need to be looked at in regards to getting our parcels of land back,” said Smith.
Smith did not reveal the total price the Haisla Nation paid to purchase the parcels or other costs but did say the federal government will cover items such as legal fees.
Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, a former Haisla chief councillor, calls the addition another milestone in the long history of getting back lands.
“It’s kind of a blend of everything that we’ve done outside the Indian Act to get us to where we are today. We’re still living in the Indian Act and that world is quite the contradiction and quite an amazing story… we’ve managed to kind of live within both worlds and see accomplishments in both worlds,” said Ross.
According to Ross the addition is especially significant since it puts the reserve lands back under the control of the First Nation and also buys time to think about developing that land.
Smith said the land use plans will be drawn up after extensive consultation with their membership.