Kwikwetlem to pursue land claims for Riverview

The Kwikwetlem First Nation has declared an intent to claim aboriginal title to the Riverview lands in a bid to lead future development of the property now the subject of a visioning review by BC Housing.

In a press release sent out late Thursday, Kwikwetlem Chief Ron Giesbrecht stated that his people have "plied the waters and lived on the land of their traditional territory since time immemorial."

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After consulting with band members and lawyers, the Kwikwetlem have decided to announce their position based on their claim of title.

"The Kwikwetlem First Nation wish to make it clear that they expect to become an owner of the Riverview Lands and lead the future development of these lands."

The development scenario proposed is based on a "highest and best use with a goal toward maximizing the benefits to the Nation as land owner."

The Kwikwetlem First Nation will contemplate any use that makes economic sense, the press release further states.

A shot across the bow from the band as the province considers the recent Tsilhquot'in Supreme Court decision, the press release received a response Friday afternoon from Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad.

"Unlike the Tsilhqot'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.

"We believe working in partnership with First Nations is the best way to provide a meaningful role in land and resource management for First Nations, and to provide for benefit sharing and economic opportunities. We believe negotiation, not litigation, is the best way to resolve issues that concern asserted Aboriginal rights.

"We are focused on achieving agreements with First Nations that enable them to participate and benefit from developments in their territory. First Nations support economic development projects that are socially and environmentally sustainable and that engage them as full and active partners. We recognize that Riverview has great historic and strategic value to the community, local First Nations and the Province as a whole," Rustad states.

Other ideas for the 244-acre site are also being discussed. Coquitlam's Riverview Lands Advisory commitee and city council recently endorsed a recommendation by clinical psychologist Dr. John Higenbottam to return Riverview back to a provincial hospital for people with acute mental illness.

Open houses on the future of the property are expected to be held in September, as BC Housing continues its visioning review.

The Kwikwetlem's Riverview Position Paper is available here.

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