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NEWS: Snuneymuxw First Nation asserts its water rights in Nanaimo

Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Douglas White

Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Douglas White

Former Nanaimo city councillor Bill Holdom writes in The Daily Star, “Probably the most important long-term issue facing Nanaimo’s current mayor and council is the need to secure sufficient sources of drinkable water for a growing population. To avoid expensive, interminable, and unpredictable court proceedings, part of resolving this issue means the city needs to work out an arrangement with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, either locally or with the provincial government. Mayor John Ruttan is right to seek an agreement rather than a fight.”

Holdom further explains, “Nanaimo has enough water to supply a population of 100,000 at current usage rates, and we should reach that population in about 10 years. If we do nothing, all growth and development will grind to a halt. The city has already set aside its commitment to provide water to Lantzville. The more expensive solution is to build another dam. The much cheaper solution is to access the unused water from the Nanaimo Forest Products water licence on the Nanaimo River.”

“Both ways involve the Snuneymuxw, who have aboriginal rights to the river under the Douglas Treaty and unresolved territorial claims to the watersheds. …Negotiating in an atmosphere of respect, the city and the SFN would acknowledge each other’s jurisdictions, attempt to understand each others’ needs, and seek areas of mutual interest. …If the two communities can continue to see each other as long-standing neighbours, I believe a recognition of the practical realities and the mutual interests to be served by a new water source would prevail and a reasonable agreement would result. Just as Nanaimo needs water for its future growth, so the SFN needs water for its unserviced reserves and potential treaty lands.”

In early February, the Daily News had reported, “The Snuneymuxw said that they are considering launching a series of legal actions, targeting the province, the city and Harmac over a water-sharing agreement being negotiated that could see the city acquire much of Harmac’s water licences for the Nanaimo River. …The First Nation is claiming the rights to fisheries and water under the Douglas Treaty, signed in 1854, extend to the whole Nanaimo River water-shed and that the water licences issued to Harmac more than 50 years ago are in direct violation of the treaty.”

Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Douglas White has stated, “For half a century (the water rights held by Harmac) has been dispossessed of us. I think it of it as analogous to the handing over of southeastern Vancouver Island to the Dunsmuir family to build a railway in the late 19th century. That’s the scale and scope of the dispossession and the impact on my people’s way of life. …I will not allow the broken, old patterns of conduct from the 19th century and 20th century to be repeated today.”

The Council of Canadians will hold its next annual general meeting in Nanaimo, British Columbia on October 26-28, 2012.