For more than a decade, those living in Pender Harbour's network of bucolic bays and inlets have been brooding as the provincial government negotiated on and off with the Sechelt First Nation that lays claim to the area.
Many are angry over a provincial government moratorium that has outlawed new docks.
The ban on new private moorage is set to be lifted in the coming months. But locals are livid at the prospect of any new dock applications going through the Sechelt, which says it is asserting its claim to all Pender Harbour's foreshore in the wake of last year's B.C. Supreme Court Tsilhqot'in ruling extending native land rights.
Signs declaring "This is our land, not Sechelt land" have sprung up and a pamphlet called the Pender Patriot is circulating the community of roughly 2,600 people warning that "many residents are uncomfortable that the playing field will no longer be level and there will be different rules based on race" after the Sechelt take control of the foreshore.
Local NDP MLA Nicholas Simons says the suspicion is a product of the lack of dialogue between the province and the members of this unincorporated community in a picturesque corner of the province. The outcry has moved the government to twice extend the period for public comment, which now ends June 24 after a final information session with provincial bureaucrats and the Sechelt in Pender Harbour on June 13.
Leonard Lee, a retired Telus employee and head of Pender Harbour's Chamber of Commerce, says those behind the Pender Patriot "appear to be a sensible bunch," but added they may be a "little more extreme" than most and acknowledged "you don't get anywhere by yelling and screaming." However, despite claims by the government that the dock plan is unrelated to its ongoing reconciliation talks with the Sechelt, Mr. Lee says he and most of his neighbours fear they will be unwilling pawns in the province's new strategy to settle land claims outside the treaty process Premier Christy Clark declared broken earlier this year.
"No one is saying this is part of a greater land claims negotiation, but I can't find any other logical reason for it," Mr. Lee says of the proposed dock plan.
Pender Harbour's Bob Fielding say the Sechelt's plan could be used as a blueprint by coastal First Nations to assert title over other areas of B.C.'s foreshore that are culturally and ecologically sensitive.
"What other bands are going to move next on this?" Mr. Fielding said. "Poor us, we were picked basically first on this program."
Chief Calvin Craigan says such fear always comes with change and promised that the Sechelt have no interest in controlling other parts of foreshore along the Sunshine Coast because the environment there is being protected. He added that locals will benefit from the certainty imposed by the Sechelt's management of the docks in Pender Harbour, which will "give the ecosystem a chance to rejuvenate itself."
"That's why [our ancestors] lived there: because the pristineness [of] the area was just magnificent," Mr. Craigan says. "And it can be again.
"My people don't even build docks, we don't see the necessity for that, but they [some Pender Harbour residents] do and we're trying to accommodate them."
Residents are particularly angry that the proposed plan outlaws new docks in Gunboat Bay, but Mr. Craigan says that is necessary to protect a salmon-bearing creek and shallow waters that once teemed with billions of herring.
Under the draft plan, anyone hoping to build a new dock or renovate or relocate an existing one in the area must file an application with the Sechelt as well as the provincial Ministry of Forestry, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
The Sechelt would require a detailed archeological assessment of the foreshore near any dock, but Mr. Craigan said that work will be done by the band and funded by the annual administrative fee of roughly $500 for any new five-year dock tenure in the area. Under current rules, owners of small private docks must pay the government a one-time $400 fee for a five-year tenure, with bigger moorage costing up to $200 more, according to the ministry.
Mr. Craigan says the Sechelt aren't seeking a "money-making scheme," but do want stewardship over an area that once drew thousands of its people each winter before the population was decimated by smallpox and relocated by the residential school system in the mid-1800s. The Sechelt have strong evidence of their forcible relocation from their ancestral lands, "otherwise the province wouldn't even be at the table with us," Mr. Craigan says.
"When the feds and Coast Guard dropped the ball in terms of how they oversee all these incriminations and infringements, then someone has to step up to the plate and speak for the environment," Mr. Craigan says. "And that's what First Nations are doing, not only on the Sunshine Coast, but up and down the B.C. coast right into the Arctic."