A Lillooet-area First Nation may soon expand its reserve territory, a measure the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) endorsed at its May 24 board meeting.
Recently, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) informed the SLRD that the Xaxli’p First Nation, located 21 kilometres northeast of Lillooet, requested the federal government transfer 15.3 hectares (37.8 acres) of fee simple land out of the SLRD and add it as an extension to the Fountain 3A reservation.
According to a report to the SLRD board, the Xaxli’p band wants to acquire the land to expand its housing capacity. Under the federal government's reservation expansion policy, local governments, such as the regional district, must be consulted on creating reserves in land under their jurisdiction, but have no veto powers on the final decision.
“Three months must be given to the Local Government to express any views in writing to ISC and the First Nation, and the First Nation is responsible for discussing the issues raised by the Local Government,” the report said.
The federal government owns the property in question, which is not serviced or taxed by the SLRD, so losing the land will have no financial implications for the regional district. The parcel is zoned rural residential, and about 10.2 per cent of it is in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
The SLRD board supported the reservation extension due to wanting to uphold the values of the reconciliation, self-determination and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"Pursuing additions to reserves is one way for a First Nation to exercise its rights to lands and resources as well as its right to self-determination," an SLRD spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "While Xaxli'p doesn't require the support of the SLRD in order for this proposal to proceed, the Board is pleased to be able to offer its support, nonetheless."
When the federal Liberal government of the day first wrote the Indian Act in 1875, the legislation did not include reservation expansions, and it wasn’t until 1972 that the process was permitted.
In 2016, the federal government issued a policy directive to streamline the expansion process, and in 2021 provided $43 million over four years to redesign the policy and accelerate work on existing requests from First Nations.
The process of adding additions to reservations is fourfold; in the first phase, the Nations must submit a formal Band Council Resolution to the ISC. Following that, the department will review the proposal.
After the review, the ISC and the First Nation will create and execute a work plan to fulfil technical components, such as surveys, addressing third-party interests, and Municipal Service Agreements, etc. After completing the details, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs approves proposals by Ministerial Order.
SLRD communications and grant coordinator Jeannette Nadon noted that the last time a First Nation in the regional district successfully expanded its reservation was in the case of Lil'wat Nation more than a decade ago in 2011, when the nation added a 16-hectare (39 acre) property composed of four separate lots directly adjacent to Lil'wat Indian Reserve No.10.