Over 60 hectares of Crown land has officially been transferred back to three Fraser Valley First Nations in a groundbreaking agreement.
The negotiations have been ongoing for over a decade, and on July 21, the Chiefs of Leq’á:mel, Matsqui and the Sumas Nations, Mission’s MLAs, mayor and the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation finalized the deal at a ceremony at Fraser River Heritage Park.
The agreement is named Í:xel Sq’eq’ó, a Hul’qumi’num phrase which translates to “Together We Paddle.”
Leq’á:mel councillor Darrel McKamey said the title is an important symbol regarding Indigenous-settler relations.
“Reconciliation would insinuate that previously there was a relationship that we were reconciling,” McKamey said. “Friends work together for the same goals and commitments … In our culture, we refer to that as paddling in a canoe.”
The agreement is the first of its kind to bring First Nations, local and provincial governments to the table. The latter will transfer the land, which sits adjacent to the grounds of St. Mary’s Residential School, to the LMS (Leq’á:mel, Matsqui and the Sumas) Society.
Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin, said he’s not aware of any other example of such a land transfer, and called the agreement “remarkable.”
“It really does have the opportunity to be replicated elsewhere,” he said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What can we as municipalities do, to work toward reconciliation with the nations in our community?’ And I’m going to talk about what has been done here today.”
Matsqui Chief Alice McKay said that in 2011, news of the Crown land referral came across her desk. She said that thanks to the work of the three First Nations and their legal teams, they were able to get the referral rescinded.
McKay recalled the words of the late Sam Douglas, Grand Chief of the Stó:lō Nation: “Whenever Crown land becomes available, that goes back to the First Nations, because that was our land to begin with.”
“I hold that dear in my heart,” she said. “I will always remember that.”
The City of Mission is being given a 99-year lease on 50 hectares for a park and recreational area, and the remaining two parcels held for development into housing, economic and social opportunities by the First Nations.
A collaborative park-management plan will be developed by city staff and the LMS Society to maintain the character of the area, safeguard environmental elements, enhance cultural and historic understanding, and guide improvements, according to a ministry press release.
The park’s name will be determined by LMS and Mission at a future date. Plans are also in development for site research with ground-penetrating radar.
“Today, we have a chance to start another chapter in our local history, one that embraces Indigenous values of land stewardship,” said Mayor Paul Horn.
“One that learns from past hurt and tragedy, and gives substance to the ideas of reconciliation partnership.”