Soowahlie asks for a halt on housing development near Chilliwack

Soowahlie leadership filed an urgent BCR with the feds this week to stop the approval of a 99-year lease for 250 homes on reserve land

A housing development proposal from Genica Development for 250 homes on Soowahlie First Nation land is facing fierce opposition from the community.

A housing development proposal from Genica Development for 250 homes on Soowahlie First Nation land is facing fierce opposition from the community.

A housing development proposal for 250 homes on Soowahlie First Nation land is facing fierce opposition from the community.

Soowahlie leadership filed a band council resolution this week in a last-ditch effort to stop Indian and Northern Affairs Canada from “unilaterally” approving the lease for a residential development.

“The process for the proposed 99-year commercial lease is fraught with paternalistic activities by INAC officials that threaten to create and foster long-term social impacts to the community,” said Chief Brenda Wallace.

The lease development proposed by Genica Development Corp, owned by Larry Les, would see the homes on 28 acres of reserve land, which is owned by a Soowahlie member with a Certificate of Possession (CP).

There’s a history of Soowahlie leaders and members objecting to a housing development on this parcel of land, dating back to 2009.

“The process has essentially prevented Soowahlie citizens and leadership from having any meaningful involvement in the decision-making process,” said Wallace.

“If INAC and the developer had their way, construction would already be underway despite the clear objections voiced by Soowahlie leadership and citizens,” said Wallace.

Regional INAC officials sent a copy of the commercial lease to the band with suggested wording, and later received calls by way of followup to see if band leadership had signed the documents yet.

INAC officials sent an email to the Progress this week to say it’s still under review.

“The Department is reviewing the leasing of Lot 4 Plan 62823 on behalf of the Locatee under provisions of the Indian Act. The process follows the guidelines of the Locatee Lease Policy and Directive.”

They also confirmed their presence at a community meeting recently.

“On March 11, 2016, the Department attended a community meeting to answer questions on the Locatee Lease Policy and Directive.

“We are following up with Chief and Council to identify their specific concerns for departmental consideration, and will also follow up with the Locatee before making a formal decision on the lease development.”

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, and a former Soowahlie chief, is asking the federal government to step in.

Two ministers received letters from Kelly asking for ministerial intervention to halt the approval of the lease on Soowahlie land.

“I am writing to advise you that a significant majority of Soowahlie members from all of our extended families are opposed to this proposed development,” Kelly wrote.

The INAC reps who attended a recent community meeting at Soowahlie stated they were unaware of any opposition to the development, he said.

“In spite of past Band Council resolutions, correspondence, and community referendums, the two INAC BC Regional officials advised their BC A/Regional Director General that they were not aware of council or community opposition,” Kelly wrote.

Something should be done to stop “junior ministers” from having the power to approve such leases “over the objections” of duly elected First Nation band councils and membership, he added.

“I am asking for your immediate intervention to assist Soowahlie members. I ask that you direct your regional officials to cease immediately the processing of the 99-year Lease for a housing development on Lots 4-5, 4-6 and 4-7 until Soowahlie members vote on our Land Code next month.”

Kelly said the proposal is with a CP holder, who is a Soowahlie member and non-aboriginal, who obtained status by marrying a Soowahlie band member. Although she is a “respected and beloved community member” there are serious issues at play, he said.

“A non-aboriginal person that acquired Status under racist provisions of the Indian Act should not reap economic benefits intended for Soowahlie members,” Kelly wrote.

The CP was issued to the current land owner’s late husband in the early 1970s.

But the development poses a threat to the aquifer, and there are traffic and other concerns.

“It’s certainly not the highest and best use of our land,” Kelly said, adding that only the land owner stands to benefit. “We’ll be stuck with it. But that land is meant to be of benefit to Soowahlie.”

There are about 70 homes now on Soowahlie territory. With the development it would increase more than four-fold.

“It’s just bad business,” said Grand Chief Kelly. “What business man with integrity would go into a community and build 250 houses that the community does not want?”

The timing is also an issue, he said. Soowahlie is very close to passing a Land Code right now, to have more direct say on what happens on their land, and to ensure proposals are consistent with community values.

Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl emailed a response to questions from the Progress to say he is “encouraged” that Soowahlie First Nation is proceeding with its own land code.

“I am proud of our previous Conservative government’s‎ efforts to promote the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA) which allows First Nations, on a voluntary basis, to opt out of 34 land related sections of the Indian Act and make decisions on their own lands without the approval of the Minister of Indigenous Affairs.

“This gives greater local control to First Nations governments over their lands.”

Strahl noted that “lands held by an individual holding a Certificate of Possession (CP)” do provide some leeway.

“(They) give the possession holder great latitude and individual control over what may be done with those lands.

“Indeed, some of the large residential leasehold developments in the Chilliwack area have been built on lands held by individual CP holders,” Strahl said in the statement.

“Some of the most difficult decisions that governments must make involve reconciling competing rights. Where the collective rights of a community compete with the individual rights of a possession holder as in this case, those choices can be very difficult.

“Hopefully, the Government of Canada can play a role to help the two sides come to a mutually beneficial agreement. If not, I suspect the only way this matter will be resolved is through the courts.”

Genica Development and Larry Les did not return a call or reply to an email from The Progress this week.

Despite everything Chief Wallace is staying positive.

“Soowahlie First Nation believes that there can be a positive way forward that will look after the best interests of the Soowahlie community as a whole, including the CP holder of the land.

“SFN leadership is currently developing a process that includes community engagement while at the same time analyzing the highest and best use of the land parcel in question based on community-driven priorities, and not just financial ones.

“We hope that INAC will work with us through this process as we move towards the best possible result for all Soowahlie members.”

 

Just Posted

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack woman’s 100-km birthday marathon to benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

RCMP investigating June 15, 2021 crash. (Black Press file)
Chilliwack RCMP say crash into median led to impaired driver investigation

Chrysler 300 driver allegedly collided with tree on Spadina median in June 15 incident

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Abbotsford council has given permission for Chilliwack to use the JAMES wastewater treatment plant for the disposal of trucked liquid waste until the end of September.
Chilliwack gets exemption to Abbotsford bylaw prohibiting liquid waste from other cities

Process in place until September while new facility under construction in Chilliwack

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

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

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

A search is underway for a 75-year-old fisherman who went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search continues for angler missing between Port Angeles and Victoria

Canadian, U.S. Coast Guard searching for 75-year-old man reported missing Thursday evening

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

Most Read