Cowichan Tribes will hold another vote of its members to determine if the First Nation will adopt a proposed land code.
Chief William Seymour announced at a news conference on April 15 that the vote will be held over three days; Sept. 18-20.
“If we receive enough votes to implement the land code, we would not need permission anymore from the Department of Indian Affairs [and Northern Development] to do anything with our land,” Seymour said.
“We now need federal approval for everything from building homes to leasing property. Currently, if an opportunity for leasing prime land for business or other purposes arises, it can take up to five years for the department’s approval and many of the interested people walk away, and our community members lose out.”
Under the land code, first established under a framework agreement between First Nations and Ottawa 23 years ago, it’s recognized that First Nations have an inherent right to manage their reserve lands and resources under their own land codes, free from constraints imposed by the ministry and federal officials under the Indian Act.
More than 80 First Nations in Canada have now ratified their land code, and Cowichan Tribes aims to be the 13th and largest First Nation on Vancouver Island to do so.
Cowichan Tribes held a vote to implement the land code in 2017, but it was unsuccessful because not enough Cowichan Tribes’ band members turned out to vote.
At the time, organizers spent two years preparing for the vote, which included going door to door in the community to explain what the land code means, and holding information sessions.
But Seymour said there was still a lot of misconceptions of what adopting the land code meant for the Cowichan Tribes’ community.
“Many believed that if we adopted the land code, all the land that everyone has would become band land and that’s not true,” he said.
“If band members hold a certificate of possession for their property, they will still own their land if the land code is implemented.”
Seymour said he hopes that this time, more band members will attend the community meetings and information sessions that will be scheduled on the issue over the next few months.
“As well, if families want to get together and have members of our staff come to their homes to discuss the land code and what it means for them, we’ll do it,” he said.
Seymour said the voting threshold for the vote has also been changed this time around, with a majority vote of those who cast ballots needed for the land code to be adopted, as opposed to the majority of Cowichan Band members who are eligible to vote like it was the last time.
“We’re encouraging all band members to attend meetings and question and answer sessions and ask questions about the land code to better educate themselves on the issue,” he said.
“We are handcuffed in regards to our land-use decisions and the adoption of the land code would allow us to make our own decisions. Cowichan Tribes is way past waiting for someone else to tell us what we can and can’t do.”
Robert Louie, chairman of the First Nations Lands Advisory Board, who was also at the press conference, said there is a growing movement for First Nations across Canada to adopt the land code.
“There are huge benefits to a First Nation if the community wants to be recognized as a government and not have their hands tied,” he said.
“It’s an inherent right of First Nations to be decision makers, to pass laws, govern themselves and manage their own affairs.”