The Squamish Nation in British Columbia is proposing to build 3,000 affordable rental units in downtown Vancouver – a major project officials say is a first in Canada for a First Nation.
The units will be built ocean side on the Kitsilano reserve of the Squamish Nation right next to million dollar high rise condominiums.
Khelsilem, from the Nation, says not only will it bring in revenue for the community but it’s also an opportunity to help.
“So much of the city for decades has been on condo and singular attached houses but there is a huge need when we have less then a one per cent vacancy rate in Vancouver and renters that are really struggling,” said Khelsilem.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy – and there is a dark past.
In 1876, the joint Indian Reserve Commission allotted six Indian reserves in Vancouver and along the north shore – the Kitsilano reserve being one of them.
It was on the site of an ancient Squamish village called Senakw –today it’s got a restaurant there and volleyball and basketball court. However in the early 1900’s , the village lookeda lot different with mostly forest and 30-40 homes along the beach as well as fish racks and boats.
“In 1913, there was a community of Squamish people living there that were evicted by the city of Vancouver and the Province and the Federal government as a result of the development that they wanted to do in the area,” said Khelsilem.
The people were only give two days to pack their belongings.
More than 60 men, women and children were loaded onto a small barge and towed into North Vancouver.
Their houses were destroyed during the relocation, and the provincial government paid each member $11,250 to sell the land.
But at an inquiry a few lears later, it was found that the government coerced them to sell and that it was illegal.
“As a part of the battle to get the lands back and returned to us from the federal government we took them to court in one of the lengthiest court battles in Canadian history,” said Khelsilem.
The Nation won in 2002 and was awarded $92.5 million and nearly 11.7 hectares just below the Burrard street bridge.
Kennedy Stewart, the mayor of Vancouver, said what happened historically was wrong.
“Literally people kicked off the land houses burnt down to the ground that is just we look at that with a lot of shame but it was an opportunity to make up for that what else can say that discriminatory act,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said the Squamish Nation has the choice of building anything it wants on the land.
“This is reserve land so the city has no jurisdiction over planning,” said Kennedy. “We will have to come to some agreement about service provision but otherwise this is totally in the hands of the Squamish Nation.”
Reaction to the proposed development is mixed.
“So that’s the last little section of urban forest,” said nearby resident Tammy Jones. “That’s the last section the eagles have a nest in that forest and then also there is also a coyote den so it’s really important for the urban wildlife.”
Others welcome the news.
“I’m very much for it I’m excited to see where the plans develop and see where things go,” said Craig Cherlet who works in the area.
The next phase of the project is to launch a referendum on the new project.