Musqueam settles with province in landmark deal

by Lloyd Dolha

The Musqueam First Nation and the province of British Columbia have reached a landmark agreement involving cash and land worth almost $250 million to settle outstanding litigation between the two parties.

The Musqueam Reconciliation, Settlement and Benefits Agreement is the full and final settlement of three outstanding court cases involving the UBC golf course, the site for the River Rock casino (known as the Bridgeport lands), and the Celtic Shipyards cleanup. “This agreement allows the province and Musqueam to build a new relationship and move beyond an era of litigation and confrontation,” said Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong. “We have negotiated a settlement that provides economic prosperity and stability for the lives of the Musqueam people and community.”

Chief Ernie Campbell said the deal was a “fair and honourable” agreement that allows the Musqueam to “achieve even greater independence” for their people.

The agreement gives the 12,00 member First Nation a cash payment of $20.3 million, ownership of 59 hectares of the UBC golf course lands, seven hectares of the Bridgeport casino lands and 22.3 hectares of the 809 hectare Pacific Spirit Regional Park in two parcels of land.

The deal requires the Musqueam to maintain the 59 hectare UBC golf course until 2083 and allows for residential development two parcels of Pacific Spirit Regional Park with the proviso that 1.2 hectares remain as park land. It also transfers the lease of the River Rock casino to the First Nation and settles the Musqueam litigation against the province to recover costs for the cleanup of contamination of the Celtic Shipyard lands in south Vancouver that are now owned by the First Nation.

The Musqueam voted 98 per cent in favour of the deal on March 10th at a community ratification meeting and the legislation for the agreement was introduced to the house for provincial ratification.

The agreement came about as a result of 2005 B.C Court of Appeal ruling that found the Musqueam had not been properly consulted when the province authorized the sale of the golf course to the university for $11 million on the condition it remain a golf course. In that decision, the court ruled that the sale be suspended while the parties negotiate an agreement.

Last June, when word of a possible agreement involving the UBC golf course lands leaked out to media, it caused public outcry amongst the upscale Shaunnessy residents of Premier Gordon Campbell’s Vancouver-Point Grey riding who circulated a petition and demanded greater transparency in the negotiation process.

Lead by the University Endowment Lands Advisory Committee, Kisilano residents sought to inject themselves in the negotiations to scuttle the deal. In a letter to Bob Kastin, president of the advisory council Minister de Jong wrote, “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. 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 controversy started a war of words between the opposing Vancouver civic parties of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) and the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) members who sit on the Metro Vancouver Park Committee. That committee oversees regional parks in the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) including the Pacific Spirit Park in the University Endowment Lands.

In early September, COPE Vancouver Park Commissioner Loretta Woodcock ridiculed NPA Park Commissioner Marty Zlotnick’s proposal to trade public park land from the Pacific Spirit Park to the Musqueam to keep the golf course under the university’s ownership and control.

The public uproar that ensued amongst Kitilano residents continued for a over a month and a half until some 300 Kisilano residents showed up at a Metro Vancouver Park Committee meeting on October 19th in a Kisilano community centre and demanded such a trade not take place.

COPE Park Board Commissioner Loretta Woodcock said that while it is not COPE`s position to judge the Musqueam for ratifying the agreement, the protection of urban park land remains paramount.

“With an expanding population in cities there is a greater dependence on our green spaces, so we need to look alternative compensation,” said Woodcock in an interview.

Bill Morrell, media manager for Metro Vancouver said that their board has clearly stated its support for reconciliation with First Nations.

“But we don’t believe municipal or regional lands, especially park land, should be part of that mix. The process in which the provincial government did it was totally arbitrary,” said Morrell. Morrell also suggested that the city should be compensated for the loss of the park lands.

The First Nations Summit, which represents First Nations in the ongoing treaty negotiations, was an intervener on behalf of Musqueam in the 2005 court ruling that initiated negotiations.

“We hope the governments will finally recognize that the legal landscape has shifted through [legal] decisions such as Haida, Taku River Tlingit and others,” said Chief Judith Sayers, a member of the First Nations Summit political executive. “The Musqueam agreement has clearly illustrated that when two parties come to the negotiations table with a full mandate, fair, timely and meaningful agreements can be reached.”