The Squamish Nation and Vancouver signed a key agreement Wednesday for city services at the nation’s significant new development planned for the Kitsilano end of the Burrard Bridge.
The agreement, which will ensure the city provides services such as policing, firefighting, water, sewers, electricity and road access to the 11-tower Senakw development in exchange for fees the Squamish will pay, is seen as an important component of Vancouver’s efforts to work on reconciliation with the Indigenous groups who originally lived in the region.
It’s also crucial to the nation’s ability to move ahead with securing financing for the project that is supposed to provide 6,000 new homes by 2027.
The announcement focused on the symbolism of the agreement rather than any details about the services that will be provided or how much the Squamish will pay, though officials said it will be similar to agreements the city has with the Musqueam band or for provincial and federal lands.
“Today is a historic achievement for the Squamish Nation and a historic achievement for both the Squamish Nation and the City of Vancouver. Most significantly for our people, and something all people of Vancouver can celebrate, is the fact that Squamish people will be coming home,” said Khelsilem, chairperson of the Squamish Nation council.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart also emphasized the importance of reconciliation in securing the agreement.
“I’m here today as the head of a colonial institution that for years passed laws and policies that were racist and oppressive,” Mr. Stewart said. “When I first learned of the project, I knew I would do everything I could to support it.”
In a statement he released later, he added: “The Senakw development is a crucial and ambitious step forward in making Vancouver a city for us all. It is an honour to help support the Squamish Nation’s sovereignty as well as help expand services for Indigenous peoples.”
But the lack of specifics in the announcement rankled some local residents who came out to the news conference at the Museum of Vancouver. They grumbled audibly at hearing that details about the services could not be provided immediately because the agreement is still being finalized.
“We didn’t learn anything,” said Lynne Kent, a member of the Kits Point Residents Association. She and others at the announcement said the nation hasn’t done anything to start a conversation with local residents.
“I agree that they have the right to do what they want, but I’m disappointed they haven’t engaged with their new neighbours. This is a bad start to reconciliation. How is this bringing us together?” asked Ms. Kent.
Residents are also unhappy with council members. “We’re disappointed the city has not played more of a role in protecting the city,” she said. “This will be 10 times the density of the West End. It’s not just about us. It’s about the use of the land for everyone.”
Residents have been raising concerns for months about the city’s plan to take some park space away to create a new roads for the project.
Ms. Kent also said it was disturbing to learn that only 250 of the 6,000 homes planned for the site will be reserved for Squamish Nation members. “That’s like colonization all over again. They’ll be totally outnumbered.”
Khelsilem had said earlier, in response to a reporter’s question, that only 250 apartments are being reserved for members because many current Squamish Nation residents have indicated they would prefer to live closer to the reserve or to the nation’s existing services in North Vancouver and the District of Squamish. Profits from the rented units will be used to help build housing for residents in those places where they want to live, he said.
The Squamish lived in what is now called Kitsilano at the time that colonial settlers arrived. But, in 1913, the B.C. government forcibly removed remaining residents to a reserve in North Vancouver. In 1977, the Squamish Nation sued to get back some of their original land. A court judgment in their favour was issued in 2003.
Because the land is owned outright by the Squamish people, the nation is not required to comply with city zoning and development processes. The city’s main leverage is through the services agreement.
The Squamish Nation is developing the project together with one of Vancouver’s most notable developers, Ian Gillespie, and his company Westbank Corp.
There are no answers yet on whether some of the rental apartments might be priced at below-market rates, which is a typical component of large projects under city control. That will likely depend, in part, on whether the project receives low-interest construction financing from the federal government.
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