The Squamish band in British Columbia has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a $92.5-million land-claims settlement intended to heal festering wounds from one of the darker moments in the province's history.
In one of the first agreements with a native band over land in the heart of Vancouver, the Squamish have abandoned their claim to a piece of prime Vancouver real estate -- known as Kitsilano Point -- and several other sites in the southwest corner of British Columbia.
The list of sites also includes 494 hectares north of Vancouver covered almost entirely by the town of Squamish, and 30 hectares in North Vancouver now occupied by privately owned houses, apartments and a park.
The Squamish said they are particularly pleased to put the history of Kitsilano Point behind them.
In 1877, 35 hectares of land at the south end of Burrard bridge was set aside as a reserve for the Squamish people. But 36 years later, the B.C. government under Conservative premier Richard McBride forced the Squamish people to abandon their waterfront property at Kitsilano Point to enable the city of Vancouver to expand.
The government considered the Indian village to be an eyesore. It ordered the natives to gather all their belongings and report to the dock, where they were to be taken to areas on the north side of Burrard Inlet.
Boarding the barge, each family was to be given $11,250. Not every family accepted the money, although 18 families did. Regardless, the government took over all of the land. As soon as the natives were out, the government torched their homes and barns.
The site now includes the Vancouver Museum, the Southam Observatory, the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium, a Molson's brewery, a housing complex and Vanier Park, which is used for The Children's Festival and summer-long Shakespearean productions.
"It was horrible," Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said yesterday in an interview. "Most of the elders could not even speak English. And there were no words in our language to describe the things that were going on."
The settlement will allow everyone to take a lesson from history and move forward, Mr. Jacob said.
The $92.5-million agreement is an out-of-court settlement of a case that combined the band's land claims with a demand for compensation for historical mistreatment. The case was launched in 1977. Along with other allegations in the court case, the Squamish band charged the federal government with failure to protect their people from illegal seizure of their lands, from fraud and coercion.
Neil Rayner, spokesman for the federal Department of Indian Affairs, said that the financial settlement is intended to resolve disputes over all 30 allegations and should be considered as a package.
"It's a good deal for all Canadians," he said. "It would be more expensive to settle the 30 claims separately, and it ensures public use of these public lands."
The federal government has spent $6-million so far dealing just with the Kitsilano Point claim.
The settlement was approved by 1,121 people, reflecting support by more than 80 per cent of those who voted on Sunday. The final count, released yesterday, showed 1,488 of 1,940 eligible voters cast a ballot.
"It's a big shot in the arm," Mr. Jacob said. Most of the money will go into a trust that will be used for elder care, housing, education, recreation and promotion of the Squamish ancestral language and culture. Up to 20 per cent of the payment -- $18.5-million -- could be distributed directly to members of Squamish Nation, providing about $9,500 for each voter.
In return, the federal government has received assurances the Squamish Nation will no longer claim the lands and they will not sue the government in relation to these lands. Some of the land is also claimed by the Musqueam and Burrard bands, and the Squamish will also have to pay out any settlement if the court decides that either band is the rightful owner.
Squamish band members have been told by Mr. Jacob in his letter that they are not selling or giving up any land because, currently, they do not own the land.
Private property owners and corporations hold title to the land. Squamish native leaders have acknowledged that it is highly unlikely a court would ever declare that the Squamish people own the land under the homes and businesses, or require the owners to vacate.
"It should be understood that the government of Canada with whom we have negotiated, does not have the land to give," Mr. Jacob has stated in a letter to band members.
Mr. Jacob also pointed out that in 1914, some Squamish people took money for the land included in the current claim. Referring to six sites in the Squamish Valley, Mr. Jacob wrote that without a settlement, there would have been "a strong possibility" a court would say the Squamish Nation gave up its rights to these lands.
In the interview, Mr. Jacob said the settlement reflected an analysis of the risk involved in waiting for the court to decide the case.
"We believe there was an infringement of our rights in the taking of our land," he said. "There was a lot of give-and-take in the negotiations. We put forward [our claim] the federal government started at a lower figure. We ended up where we are at," he said.
The current settlement is unrelated to the controversial treaty negotiations in B.C. or the negotiations process that lead to the Nisga'a treaty. The Squamish Nation continues to pursue a much larger land claim with the federal and provincial government over different land.