A Friday ceremony at Victoria’s Centennial Square was one Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam found it hard to not get emotional about.
The ceremony celebrated the city formally supporting the First Nation’s treaty settlement land negotiations with the province and the federal government. The land claim agreement hopes to transfer three parcels within Victoria – 1112 Wharf St., 430 Menzies St. – both currently parking lots – and 613/615 Pandora St., site of a two-storey building in Old Town, back to the Songhees.
If B.C. and Canada agree to transfer the lands back, they wouldn’t be subject to city bylaws and regulations and would instead be governed by the Songhees Nation. Negotiations between the First Nation, B.C. and Canada are ongoing.
Sam said things are moving in a positive direction, but the process has already taken about 25 years and there are still years ahead of them. A finalized treaty package will also need to be presented to Songhees members for a ratification vote.
“What we’re really trying to accomplish is to bring land back for our Nation, bring land back to our people – for housing, for economic development,” he said.
The collaboration with the city shows both Songhees Nation and Victoria citizens that great things can be done when people work towards a common goal, Sam said. He added that it took courage for Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and council to put themselves out there and show “they’re going to walk with the local nations.”
“The support they have given us as a nation is something I will always remember and cherish for the rest of my life,” Sam said. “I’ve always been a believer that the more we stand together, the more we show our citizens that ‘hey, I’m no different than you.’”
Helps said council strongly believes in decolonization and Lekwungen-speaking people having land back in their own traditional territories. She noted that when she does land acknowledgments, those include recognizing the people of the land.
“After everything that has happened over the course of colonization, the Lekwungen-speaking people are still here and they’re still strong,” she said.
The reconciliation work between the Songhees and the city has progressed in an “open-hearted and loving way,” she added. When Chief Sam asked for a public declaration of support in the treaty process, Helps said, the city’s response was “without question, yes.”
“Today has been the result of a very long, deep and ongoing path of reconciliation.” she said.
Sam brought the news of Victoria’s support to a community meeting on Thursday night.
“To the citizens of Victoria here, I just want you to know … the comments that came from our people, was ‘thank you.’”
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