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Chief Kim Baird of the Tsawwassen First Nation January 9, 2012.

The Globe and Mail

The Tsawwassen First Nation is right to have embarked on ambitious real-estate developments, on its lands in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. In a vote last week, 97 per cent supported this adaptation to the modern economy.

It amounts to a reversal of centuries of colonialism. This aboriginal community will be the landlords of numerous non-aboriginal businesses and households. It has become – among other things – a capitalist enterprise that will bring into being residential subdivisions with many types of housing, two large shopping malls, and an industrial park adjacent to the port of Vancouver – all this on less than half of the TFN's 724 hectares.

That advantageous location in the midst of a metropolitan area, however, means that the TFN's plan is not a simple recipe for economic development that all other aboriginal communities can easily follow – especially, remote reserves such as Attawapiskat and Kashechewan, both near James Bay, which in recent years have drawn national attention for (respectively) bad housing and a bad water supply.

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Even so, the people of Tsawwassen have done what numerous native leaders have advocated for many decades. They have essentially emancipated themselves from the much-hated Indian Act, thanks to their treaty of 2009 with the federal and B.C. governments.

Nothing on Earth is ideal. The TFN is a quasi-municipal government, in which the 57 per cent of the residents who are not native (a figure likely to rise with the new subdivisions) lack votes, though they are to be consulted – and of course they can vote in federal and provincial elections. Status Indians could not vote in Canada until 1960; the role reversal is a striking irony.

Moreover, the development will add to urban sprawl. But aboriginals should not be denied the fruits of modernity. The Tsawwassen First Nation is to be congratulated for acting on this great opportunity.

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