(Canadian Press)

Homeless B.C. Indigenous Nation buys land on Vancouver Island

Jobs were scarce in their previous village northeast of Vancouver Island in the Johnstone Strait

Thomas Smith says his most vivid memory of living on British Columbia’s Turnour Island was watching families leave their homes.

Five decades later, images of the exodus from the Indigenous village of Kalagwees are just as clear, he said.

“I was pretty young at the time,” 60-year-old Smith said. “I was one year at the primary school there and then the family moved.”

Jobs were scarce in the village accessible only by boat or float plane, he said of his former home northeast of Vancouver Island in the Johnstone Strait.

The community began to empty as the school closed and hospital boat visits to the remote community were cancelled.

“The village went quiet,” Smith said. “There were a few adults living there but the majority of the families moved. Some went to Alert Bay, others moved to Campbell River and some even further to Vancouver, Victoria, wherever they found a place comfortable.”

The estimated 450 members of the Tlowitsis First Nation haven’t had a permanent home since then.

But that is about to change, Smith said.

The nation paid $3.5 million earlier this year for a 257-hectare rural, forested property eight kilometres south of Campbell River. Plans are now underway to establish a community of up to 100 homes, he said.

“One of our hereditary chiefs, before he passed away, said he wanted a place for my people to have a home. This is basically a promise kept. The chief was my oldest brother Alec.”

Frogs croak, ravens squawk and vehicles drive past as Smith stands at the steel gate and sign that mark the site in the Strathcona Regional District.

The new community will be called Nenagwas, which means “a place to come home to,” Smith said. Last December, the federal government approved the property as Tlowitsis reserve 12.

“This place in 30 years could be a very large place,” Smith said. “Indigenous people have lots of babies. It’s going to be an exciting place for our young people to grow up.”

Engineering and planning studies are underway and the nation expects to break ground in 2020, bringing the dream of a new home community much closer to reality, he said.

“We need a place for our members to get together and share things and learn their culture, their history. What it means to be Tlowitsis,” Smith said. “This will help.”

Brenda Leigh, the Strathcona Regional District’s elected area director, said local residents had concerns about a lack of consultation, but now the focus is on developing infrastructure like sewage and transportation and fitting the Tlowitsis community into the sprawling, rural neighbourhood.

“I am sure that they will love this setting and they will have an opportunity to build their reserve and enjoy the same peaceful life that all of us value so much in this region,” Leigh said in an emailed statement.

Smith said early reaction to the Tlowitsis plan was shrill and concerned his band members. Graffiti with the words “No Rez” was painted on a road near the community site.

The First Nation decided to move ahead with its plans and has met with the regional district board and local community associations, Smith said.

“We’re here now,” he said. “You can see by our sign, we’re here and we’re going to start developing as soon as we can.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Kelowna Art Gallery hosts new exhibition, Poetics of Space

The exhibition can be viewed from Feb. 2 until May 5

Kelowna RCMP use spike belt to apprehend alleged car thieves

Both suspects were expected in court Thursday morning

Kelowna RCMP ask for assistance to identify suspects

The break and enter resulted in a firearm being stolen

TELUS works with YMCA for Okanagan youth

A four week employment program will assist at-risk youth

First recreational cannabis store in Okanagan has quiet opening near Lake Country

Indigenous Bloom has opened on Okanagan Indian Band land

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Olympian snowboarder Max Parrot diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Each year in Canada, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hergott: Memories of crashes fade

Lawyer Paul Hergott writes about the importance of journaling after a crash

‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery accused of sexual assault, harassment

Emery denied the allegations, but a Toronto woman says she is not the only one speaking out

Vancouver Island photographer makes National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour for Marston from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Ex-Liberal candidate in Burnaby, B.C., says volunteer wrote controversial post

Karen Wang dropped out following online post singling out NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Remorse high for Vernon man sentenced for car surfing death

Driver of car that killed friend who was car surfing gets nine months in jail

Most Read