Sc’ianew First Nation has signed an agreement that allows them to explore the possibility of creating an Indigenous Protected Area in the Mary Hill area of Metchosin.
The status quo agreement, signed by the nation, the District of Metchosin, Habitat Acquisition Trust and Pearson College UWC, will give Sc’ianew First Nation 18 months to exclusively explore the option of an Indigenous protected area in Mary Hill.
“It’s been a while to come,” said chef Russ Chipps. “We have been negotiating for a very, very long time. I’m just glad it’s coming, not to an end, but to a beginning. He says we stand still, but we really start.
The Mary Hill area the nation is looking at is a 136-hectare private parcel of land currently owned by the Department of National Defense (DND) in Metchosin, which is part of the traditional lands of the Sc’ianew First Nation. It has been declared surplus to DND requirements and Sc’ianew is in negotiations under the BC treaty process to have the land returned as treaty land.
Ownership of Mary Hill is part of the treaty negotiations, and if Sc’ianew members vote to approve a treaty, it would mean the nation has jurisdiction over that land.
“They [would] have the power to legislate,” said the country’s attorney, Erin Thomson-Leach. “So if an indigenous protected area is created in Mary Hill, it would be under the Sc’ianew laws.”
An Indigenous Protected Area (ZIP) is at large as Indigenous-led initiatives that protect lands and waters. The creation of an ZIP would protect the ecologically sensitive and culturally sacred ecosystem of the region.
“We’re talking about opportunities for ecotourism, for education centers, for healing centers, for habitat restoration, for research — and so on. The sky is the limit as long as it is compatible with conservation,” said Thomson-Leach.
Mary Hill is part of the Coastal Douglas Fir Ecosystem, home to 15% of the last old-growth Coastal Douglas Fir, according to Habitat Acquisition Trust. The BC Conservation Data Center has confirmed the presence of 18 rare species in this area.
Public access to Mary Hill has been prohibited since World War II, Chief Chipps said. The first time he walked on these ancestral lands was during these negotiations.
“When I first stepped on it I felt anger, disappointment, joy, excitement, all the emotions hit me,” he said. “But the relief. Relief after a while because I knew we had spoken to the mayor of Metchosin, spoken to [Habitat Acquisition Trust]I knew something different was going to happen on the pitch and I knew it was going to be something special.
In addition to the 136 hectares owned by DND, Pearson College UWC is offering to return some of its land to the nation – 14 hectares.
“[We wanted] to commit to action by saying that we can, together with DND, contribute to the return of some of this land as part of our commitment to reconciliation,” said Craig Davis, president and director of the college.
A deal like this, added Chief Chipps, is part of reconciliation.
“Reconciliation, you hear a lot about it on TV and you hear people talk about it and it’s very rare to see it happen,” he said. “Reconciliation is about treating each other as human beings. There’s no legal language for that, it’s just treating each other the same. Treat your neighbor as you would treat your brother, your sister, your mother, as if it were easy to reconcile when you do that.