First Nations eye Crown land in Whistler 

Squamish, Lil’wat want to join economy within their traditional territory

At a recent community meeting Whistler’s mayor expressed concerns about potential First Nations development on Crown land within Whistler.

"Our problem is we’re really at the end of our development curve," said Hugh O’Reilly after last week’s meeting.

He explained that the Comprehensive Sustainability Plan, Whistler’s new community plan, calls for little or no growth in the next 15 years. And yet, the municipality is aware that local First Nations have been looking at Crown land in the resort for development.

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob confirmed this week that Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations are examining land in and around Whistler for development of their 300 acre land bank that was part of 2010 Olympic negotiations with the provincial government.

"There’s an awful lot of money that flows through Whistler," said Jacob.

"I think they give to the province hundreds of millions of dollars per annum. We just want to join the economy within our traditional territory."

He would not identify specific sites other than to say that there are a handful of areas they are currently examining.

"We’ve identified a few pieces but we’re still looking and we’ve talked to the province in regards to these but there’s been no commitment either way (on) whether we’re actually going to pursue them or whether or not they would grant them," said Jacob.

Like Whistler, Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations negotiated for the 300 acres as part of the Olympic bid agreement in 2002.

"We wanted a similar amount of acreage to what Whistler had gotten, so that’s how we got the land," said Jacob.

He pointed out that the land bank was not part of an official land swap, which would allow Olympic development in the Callaghan Valley, part of the traditional territory shared by Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations.

"I’m sure it was in the minds of the other parties but we never raised it. We never raised rights or titles," said Jacob.

"It was basically a business deal. If we were to stand on our rights I don’t know what would have happened. We looked at it as a straight business proposition."

Unlike Whistler’s land bank, which is restricted to development of resident housing, the First Nations land bank has no such restrictions.

It could be developed for housing or business opportunities or recreational opportunities like a golf course.

Together the Squamish and Lil’wat can look for opportunities on Crown land stretching from Rubble Creek to the area between Pemberton and Whistler.

Jacob said they have considered all kinds of options for land development. Their primary consideration is that any development would ultimately benefit the members of the two Nations.

"It’s certainly for our membership that we’ve negotiated these things," he said.

"That’s why we’ve had our people going to tourism courses through Cap College, and we have the heavy duty operators course and we’ve got a framing course happening. So we’re planning for the future and we’re certainly planning to be successful and get out of the box of the reserve."

They have yet to find a large tract of land totalling 300 acres that suits their needs and so they have been looking at a number of smaller sites.

"We just haven’t seen 300 acres that would make sense to us, that would be the kind of development that we could put on it to create to the kind of resources and jobs and that kind of thing for our people," said Jacob.

He added that the province would still have input on any sites that are chosen and working with Whistler is a key factor.

There have been informal meetings with the municipality to date, he said, discussing general concepts without pinpointing any locations.

"Of course we always want to be good neighbours," said Jacob.

"We have a good working relationship with the RMOW.

"It’s been a positive relationship so far and we want to maintain that positive aspect."

The mayor echoed these comments about working together with First Nations.

He said Whistler is an economic engine and First Nations should be participating in that success.

The Crown land transfer must be completed by May 2005.

Until that time Jacob said there are still many things that need to be worked out.

He said: "We’ve got a ways to go with Whistler on this one."

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