New day dawns for First Nations 

Whistler agrees to development rights, sees resolution on provincial issues

The eight Whistler sites that are being turned over to the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.
  • The eight Whistler sites that are being turned over to the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.

By Alison Taylor

First Nations have just become the biggest potential land developers in Whistler.

Hailed as a historic occasion Monday night, council sealed a multi-million dollar deal with Squamish and Lil’wat Nations to transfer development rights on their new legacy lands in Whistler.

Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob surveyed the room as he addressed council at the meeting.

“A new day is dawning for our people,” said the charismatic chief.

“We will be sustainable within our traditional lands again.”

No deal has ever been negotiated like this before in the province.

After administrator Bill Barratt presented the complexities of the deal to council, Mayor Ken Melamed congratulated him on all the hard work in seeing a resolution to the file, which has been negotiated behind closed doors for the past three years.

“It’s going to have significant impacts for all of us into the future,” said the mayor, who offered his whole-hearted support for the deal.

Any future development by First Nations, however, will be within Whistler’s official planning documents, like the Whistler2020 plan. And the new development rights handed over this week are within Whistler’s growth cap.

First Nations have handpicked eight sites within the resort municipality for their 300 acre legacy lands, promised to them in 2002 by the provincial government during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid phase.

The Crown land sites lie from one end of the valley to the other.

Council has transferred 224 bed units to First Nations. Those will be added to the 228 bed units previously held by the province and given to the nations.

The value of that transfer cannot be understated. Bed units are the tools that create development potential in Whistler.

With 452 bed units First Nations have the potential to build 75 single-family homes.

Only one of the eight legacy lands sites has been designated residential. Those are the Alpine North lands, above Rainbow. The Squamish and Lil’wat have asked council to consider a rezoning proposal by June 2008 for those lands. (See related story page 15.)

Their five-acre site, south of the entrance to Function Junction, is designated industrial. It does not need bed units to be developed.

The rest of the sites have rural resource designation, and therefore no development rights.

As part of the package, Whistler will see resolution to several outstanding issues with the province, not the least of which is its large boundary expansion and the transfer of valuable day skier parking lots to municipal hands. (See related story page 13.)

For MLA Joan McIntyre this is a precedent-setting deal in the province and one that fills her with pride.

“I’m so proud to be a part of this government at this time in history,” she said from Victoria this week.

“It totally exemplifies what we’ve been trying to do at the provincial level in terms of these relationships.”

It was the promise of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games that brought the province and Four Host First Nations together in 2002 to sign an overarching Shared Legacies Agreement. In return for their support of the Games, the First Nations were to get various economic opportunities in the Sea to Sky corridor.

Soft-spoken Leonard Andrew, chief of the Lil’wat Nation, also spoke to council Monday, saying the last three years have been a very fruitful time for everyone in regards to how they share the land.

“Hopefully we’ll be a model for the rest of the province to follow,” said councillor Ralph Forsyth.

Only councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden voted against it.

She looked directly at the Chiefs in the audience as she began to list her reasons for opposition, admitting that what she was about say was very difficult.

“First, there was no consultation from the province,” she said, later adding that some would say council was backed into a corner.

She also questioned why First Nations picked all 300 acres in Whistler, the only community in the corridor to have a growth cap. And why all the residential units were going in Alpine North, when the new school and fire hall are located in the south end of town.

Do we need 75 additional market houses, she asked, particularly with the market units attached to the Rainbow development.

“In the short-term, when is enough, enough?”

She summed up the deal saying Whistler gets land, First Nations get money and “the province gets peace during the Olympics.”

The mayor said he appreciated some of her concerns but the deal works to Whistler’s advantage too.

“It really is in the community’s best interests to have all these issues resolved,” he said.

He also said that by handing over some of the last remaining bed units in the inventory that Whistler may be able to move away from “this addiction to development.”

For lead Lil’wat Nation negotiator Lyle Leo Monday marked the culmination of years of hard work and the promise of more work ahead.

“I would have preferred unanimous support from council. I’m disappointed it wasn’t but I’m very happy that the majority have supported it. So we want to get to work,” he said, just days after the meeting.

“We need to break the economic imbalance that the First Nations (have been) realizing for so long. It’s the responsibility of Canada and the province to work towards that and Premier Gordon Campbell’s initiative with the new relationship is working with two of the four largest First Nations in B.C., the Squamish and the Lil’wat. It’s important that society at large supports that.”

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