Tsartlip First Nation territory doubles in size after traditional land returned by B.C. government

A large chunk of farmland on southern Vancouver Island has been returned to the Tsartlip First Nation after a historic agreement with the B.C. government.

On Dec. 16, the Tsartlip took possession of the former Woodwynn Farm, a 78-hectare property on the Saanich Peninsula once used by the nation for gathering medicines, hunting and ceremonial practices. It is immediately adjacent to Tsartlip First Nation’s only reserve and significantly expands the size of its territory.

“It’s really a doubling,” said Chief Don Tom in an interview on CBC’s On The Island.

According to Tom, the reserve is about 196 acres and the additional lands will add about 193 acres, including a creek he said nation members hope to rehabilitate for fishing purposes.

“Our membership are excited, they are elated that we are expanding our land base,” said Chief Don Tom about the historic agreement. (Province of B.C.)

Tsartlip now has over 1,000 members and the community has run out of space to address the housing, recreational and cultural needs of what Tom says is the fastest growing First Nation in the southern Vancouver Island area.

“Our membership are excited, they are elated that we are expanding our land base,” said Tom.

According to a government release, Tsartlip First Nation was able to purchase the farm from B.C. Housing through a $7.77-million grant from the province.

Since purchasing the farm in July 2018, B.C. Housing has leased the property to a local farmer, who is actively farming hay, grain and produce. Tsartlip First Nation has extended the lease through to Sept. 2021.

Woodwynn Farm was for some time a working farm run by a society that aimed to rehabilitate homeless residents. It closed in 2018 after failing to meet Agriculture Land Commission requirements.

Tom said between now and next fall, the nation will use the time to engage with members and the District of Central Saanich on how best to use the land.

Tsartlip Councillor Joe Seward said in a statement that the land at Woodwynn Farm, also known as Máwueć, used to be hunting territory and a cedar forest where Elders and ancestors would harvest medicines. 

“Our people were kicked off that land and settlers cut down the cedar trees… We want to reawaken the land, heal the land and bring the sacredness back,” said Seward.

The nation now owns the land, which is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve, as private property.

In a written statement, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin called the move a tremendous step forward to advance reconciliation between the provincial government and Tsartlip First Nation.

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