(Canadian Press)

(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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sheriff Avory Chapman was last seen Jan. 20 on Wellington Avenue in Chilliwack. (RCMP)
RCMP look for missing man last seen in downtown Chilliwack

21-year-old Sheriff Avory Chapman has been missing since Jan. 20

A worker is seen throwing a chicken in an undercover video in 2017 filmed by California-based animal rights activists Mercy For Animals.
Fraser Valley chicken abuse trial delayed until February

Originally scheduled for a jury trial, Sofina and Chilliwack company now face judge alone

Recently elected NDP MLA Kelli Paddon is funding three $500 scholarships for students demonstrating a commitment to equity and social change. (Black Press file photo)
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Kelli Paddon funding Equity and Social Change Scholarships

One of the scholarships is open to any graduating student in the Chilliwack-Kent electoral district

Paid parking returns to Harrison from May 15 to Sept. 15. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)
Harrison pay parking to arrive May 15, parking master plan in the works

The village will be looking at parking for the community as a whole in the new plan

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane towed across Chilliwack over weekend

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Rose Sawka, 91, waves to her son through the window of a care home in Prince Rupert in October. Residents of the care home received their first vaccine dose Jan. 20. (K-J Millar/The Northern View)
B.C. care home visitor access to expand by March, Dix says

Staff, residents, essential visitors top priorities for vaccine

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO) is looking into the death of man discovered Jan. 11 in east Maple Ridge. (Black Press files)
B.C.’s police watchdog investigating man’s death in Maple Ridge

Man was found dead Jan. 11 after recent contact with police

Chilliwack Law Courts. (Black Press file)
Man sentenced to 20 months for sexual offences involving a minor in Mission

Will Laws Clark was 22 and victim was 13 at time offences began

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Most Read