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Private titles mistakenly issued on Squamish Nation reserve lands

Error could cost province more than $4.5 million in cash or land

A 94-year-old surveying error in the Squamish area means that a dozen home owners are living on Squamish First Nation land.

The owners have always believed that they own their properties, totaling about 40,000 square metres, fee-simple.

Pat Bell, the minister of forests, lands and mines, addressed media about the issue on Wednesday.

"Originally there was a land title survey done in 1881 in this area," he said.

"In 1917 there was actually an error made that was carried forward over the years. "We've just become aware of this, but the consequence is there are 14 pieces of property that were originally titled to individual owners that are actually on the Cheakamus Indian Reserve."

Bell, who became involved on Feb. 17, said the Ministry is contacting those property owners to advise them of the issue and to provide them with options.

Under the first option, the provincial government will assume all the costs related to the transfer of the lands and cover other out-of-pocket expenses - guaranteeing mortgages if necessary for the interim period while the lands are transferred out of the reserve.

The second option, if the property owners wish to leave, involves the province purchasing those properties from the owners at market value and covering any moving expenses.

Bell says the Squamish Nation informed them of the mistake, and one of the remedies may involve the transfer of other Crown land to the reserve to make up the difference.

Bell estimated that the lands and homes are worth $4.5 million in total, and the Province's costs to fix the situation could be higher in cash and land.

Of the 14 properties affected, 12 have "various levels" of occupancy. Roughly six people live on the lots permanently. The Federal and the Sea to Sky School District own the other two.

The area is described as a parcel of land on the east side of the Cheakamus Rivers, adjacent to Cheakamus Indian Reserve.

More to come.