By Lloyd Dolha
The Musqueam Indian Band sent out its first and only public statement on the growing controversy over the possible transfer of the popular 18-hole UBC gold course to the First Nation as part of its land claims settlement in the works with the provincial government.
“There has been a lot of speculation about what Musqueam would do if we got the UBC golf course, which forms part of our traditional territory, as a result of this negotiation,” reads the June 27th written statement to the news media by Chief Ernest Campbell. “I want to assure everyone that if we do get the gold course, we would keep it as a golf course until 2033.”
Since word of the possible transfer leaked out in early June, public speculation over the fate of the 120 acre golf course has been rampant among the upscale Shaunnessy residents of the affluent Vancouver-Point Grey riding – the riding held by Premier Gordon Campbell.
A petition to block the controversial deal has been circulating door-to-door and over the Internet among Point Grey residents. The petition also calls for greater transparency of the negotiations to quell growing fears among area residents of the future of the one of the oldest golf course in the city. The petition hopes to garner some 5,000 signatures
“Everyone associated is really upset and doesn’t know what’s going on,” said Bob Hindmarch, a former UBC athletics director, in an interview. “We will get thousands of people to sign this petition because people don’t want this deal to happen.”
The prime real estate on which the golf course was bought by the university in 2003 for $11 million over the objections of the Musqueam.
UBC bought the land for the paltry sum with the stipulation that it only be used for a golf course, when it is generally held to be one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the country valued in the hundreds of millions should it ever be redeveloped for residential purposes.
Challenged by the Musqueam in court, the sale of the golf course by the province to the university was suspended in March 2003 by the BC Court of Appeal, overturning an earlier Supreme Court of BC ruling which upheld the sale.
The appeal court ruled that the provincial government breached its duty to consult and accommodate the Musqueam before transferring title of the property.
The majority ruled that the order-in-counsel authorizing the sale should be suspended for two years while the parties negotiate an agreement.
Since word of the possible deal leaked out, the University Endowment Lands advisory council has been working to scuttle the deal. Representing 1,500 UBC-area households, the advisory council has made an application to the land title office to temporarily ban the possible transfer of the golf course to the Musqueam on the basis of their being a steward or trustee of the lands under negotiations.
“This is just our way of trying to freeze anything that would happen until we know a little bit more or until we are engaged in the process,” said Bob Kastin, president of the advisory council.
If the advisory council’s application is accepted, the land title will be frozen for 60 days or until another party successfully applies to have the stipulation removed.
Minister of Aboriginal Relations Mike de Jong said in a letter to Kasting that the Musqueam pledge should ally some fears for the upper-class golf course fans.
“Those who make use of the golf course at UBC will be able to do so with certainty many years into the future.”
de Jong went on to say the negotiations taking place are held in the context of a broader commitment by the province to meet its obligations to settle long-standing grievances with BC First Nations.
“These are complex issues, made even more challenging in an urban environment where the Crown is limited in its options to resolve aboriginal land disputes,” he wrote.
“It is important to remember that a primary basis of all these issues is the reconciliation of Crown and aboriginal interests and that land is a critical component in this process.”
The Musqueam Indian Band will make no further announcement on the future of the UBC golf course until negotiations with the province are complete in the settlement of two outstanding court cases.
The other case involves the River Rock Casino in Richmond, where the Musqueam successfully challenged a provincial government decision to allow the casino to relocate to a Bridgeport site and expand.
An announcement on the result of those negotiations from government is expected in sometime in late July.