Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Land code opens new doors for Cowichan Tribes

First Nation given control of band land for first time

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour is right to be excited that members of his First Nation have voted to adopt a land code.

Now that the majority of those who voted gave the green light to adopt the land code in a vote last week, the federal government will no longer have a significant say in how the Cowichan Tribes reserve lands are managed.

That means the First Nation can now explore business, housing and other opportunities that were much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve under the old land management system.

That’s because Cowichan Tribes would have to wait for such proposals to go through the often long and arduous process of cutting through all the bureaucratic red tape that only governments can come up with before they could even get a spade in the ground, which saw many developers walk away from much-needed projects on band land over the years.

One doesn’t have to look far to see what can happen when First Nations adopt land codes, with more than 40 in B.C. having done so to date.

In June, the operations manager of the Lake Cowichan First Nation, Aaron Hamilton, invited me up to the band’s land to see what has been accomplished, and what is planned, since the First Nation adopted its land code in 2017.

He took me to the land where the band will soon begin construction of a long-planned residential development on waterfront property on North Shore Road.

Hamilton said the development will be market-driven and the units will be available to both aboriginals and non-aboriginals when the project is complete.

He told me that planning and work on the project began in earnest after the band voted to adopt the land code, and the First Nation is not looking back now that it’s been given the latitude to make its own development decisions.

The residential development will be constructed in an area that the First Nation plans to transform into a variety of economic generators, not only for the band, but also for the overall community.

That has already begun with the 2017 opening of the First Nation’s Kaatza Adventures, a rental company that deals in kayaks, paddle boards, paddle boats and other water craft, and plans also call for the eventual construction of a marina and a health and wellness centre in the same area.

“We’ve also recently completed our new $700,000 waterfront walkway, which was constructed with a grant from the Building Canada Fund, that also has a 30-foot viewing platform and is linked to the extension of the water and sewer services to the area that was completed in preparation for the development of the new residential development,” Hamilton excitedly told me at the time.

A little north of the Cowichan Valley, near Ladysmith, the Stz’uminus First Nation began building Oyster Bay, a 65-acre commercial, recreational and tourism development that includes housing, hotels and retail, on their land shortly after the band voted for its own land code in 2013.

That project is well underway and is already showing benefits for the First Nation.

Chief Seymour also hopes that the adoption of the land code will bolster new opportunities for the more than 4,900 Cowichan Tribe members as well.

Let’s wish them good luck in their efforts.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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