The Pacheedaht First Nation has taken back control of a small parcel of land on its territory in a ceremony Thursday between the nation, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, and Parks Canada.
The Pacheedaht is a band of approximately 290 members on the southwestern corner of Vancouver Island.
Its community is centred near Port Renfrew, 80 kilometres southwest of Victoria.
Elected Chief Jeff Jones called the 2.64-hectare parcel a “missing link” for his community.
“The nation has not owned this land for many, many years,” he said, “so we’re very excited about working towards what the feeling of ownership might look like down the road.”
Called Middle Beach or ?A:?b?e:?s (“aah-BEE-ays”), the waterfront, forested land was not included when Pacheedaht were restricted to reservations.
In 1988, the federal government added the land to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve — without consulting the Pacheedaht or allowing them to manage the lands.
Park reserves fall under the Parks Canada system, but are for areas that are subject to Indigenous land claims.
The Pacheedaht, who did not sign any treaties in the early days of colonization, entered the modern treaty process in 1996.
They are currently at stage 5 of the six-stage treaty process, and this move was one element of an agreement in principle signed in 2019.
Once a final treaty agreement is made and signed in the coming years, Middle Beach will be removed from Parks Canada and officially become Pacheedaht land.
In the meantime, the stewardship, land use, and official occupancy have been handed over to the nation.
Both Chief Jones and Dave Tovell of Parks Canada gave credit to the nation’s late Chief Marvin McLurg, who was also chief negotiator.
“This was his vision, and the Pacheedaht peoples’ vision, to see ?A:?b?e:?s come back to Pacheedaht,” said Tovell, Parks Canada’s acting field unit superintendent for coastal B.C.
Chief Jones said there has been much discussion amongst Pacheedaht about how to utilize the land, and that will continue.
He said one option is to expand tourism.
The nation already operates a campground, and the area is a favourite outdoor recreation destination for people on southern Vancouver Island.