(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.

Just Posted

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

B.C. BUDGET: Surplus $374 million after bailouts of BC Hydro, ICBC

Growth projected stronger in 2020, Finance Minister Carole James says

Highway 97 north of Summerland could be open by end of week

Detour in place as crews continue to clear rock slide and stabilize area

Summerland victim in Kamloops shooting may be a case of mistaken identity

Rex Gill, 41, was not previously known to Kamloops police unlike second shooting victim

Okanagan ski resort officials displeased with Family Day roll-out

From one peak of the Okanagan to the other, resort officials have raised concerns

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

Crash closes highway between Vernon and Lumby

Traffic being routed around the scene

Level nightclub will be closing

Three cougar sightings in Central Okanagan

Two cougars have been reported in Lake Country

Vehicle located in 2018 Shuswap abduction attempt

Chase RCMP say car used has since been sold, suspect still at large

We like it! Readers support the shift in Family Day dates

Readers support the date switch, while Ski Resorts may not

Cougar ‘living’ next door to Okanagan elementary school

Conservation Office has been alerted and monitoring large cat

Dog dies in Kamloops RV fire

According to a fundraiser posted on social media, the cause of the fire was electrical

B.C. BUDGET: Income assistance raise still leaves many below poverty line

$50 per month increase included in funding for poverty and homelessness reduction

Most Read