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UPDATED: Kwikwetlem statement no surprise
The long-running drama that is the Riverview lands and its future just entered another chapter with an announcement from the Kwikwetlem First Nation that it intends to claim ownership and lead development of the 244-acre property.
In a statement sent out last Thursday and published on its website, Kwikwetlem Chief Ron Giesbrecht stated that the Kwikwetlem First Nation expects to become the land owner and will contemplate development that makes the most economic sense.
The position statement follows the recent Tsilhquot'in Supreme Court decision that has many B.C. First Nations groups pursuing their property rights.
But in an email statement the province's aboriginal affairs minister noted that Kwikwetlem hasn't been given title to Riverview. However, John Rustad said the First Nations group is being consulted about the property's future.
“Unlike the Tsilhquot’in people where title has been declared to a particular piece of land, there has not been a similar declaration to the Kwikwetlem First Nation in this area. Therefore, the Kwikwetlem First Nation are in a different situation.
“The province has negotiated a protocol agreement with the Kwikwetlem First Nation to enable consultation on the future use of the lands," Rustad stated in an email statement.
Meanwhile, the city of Coquitlam, which is an active participant in land use discussions for the former provincial mental hospital, is on the sidelines of this debate.
Coquitlam Coun. Craig Hodge, chair of the Riverview Lands Advisory Committee, said the issue is between the Kwikwetlem and the province, but the Kwiketlem's latest initiative doesn't come as a surprise. "This is something we thought was always a possibility," Hodge said.
But he said the city and the band have different views when it comes to development. Kwikwetlem have stated their intention to pursue a development scenario based on a "highest and best use" of the property "with a goal toward maximizing the benefits to the Nation as land owner."
In contrast, the city wants the property to stay in public hands and be used as a hospital for people with mental health concerns. "We want to protect the trees and as many of the heritage buildings as we can and find a way we can continue to deliver mental health services on those grounds… I would hope they would recognize the importance for their vision," Hodge said.
Meanwhile, BC Housing is in the midst of a visioning process for the property, and notes on its website that it considers the Kwikwetlem a partner in the process and is consulting with the band.
As for further comment and what steps it will pursue next, Kwikwetlem First Nation Chief Ron Giesbrecht was not available to provide further comment to The News.