Times Colonist: June 8, 2008

Give Woodwyn to us, Tsartlip band says

Federal government should buy farm; First Nation will decide how to use land


I watch the effort to purchase the Woodwynn Farm bordering Tsartlip First Nation, the community where I was born and of which today, I am chief and I say what many of us feel and believe: This is our land.

To this day the WSANEC people identify with the land that is now called Woodwynn Farm. Our ancestors occupied this territory for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the European settlers.

The creek is called K’ENES and was once used as a pathway of escape from the great flood. The pathway was also used as an escape route for our children, women and elders during times of war.

STOTELUS TTE SWE,WO,ET translated to the creek of the thunderbird joins K’ENES and the water flows from our sacred mountain, LAU,WEL,NEW.

The land that the farm sits on was once covered with old growth cedar trees and when the settlers wanted the land for farmland, they cut down all of the cedar trees and just burned them. Our ancestors trapped otters, mink and muskrats on this land. Our elders to this day remember utilizing the natural resources that have all but dwindled into memory.

One hundred and sixty years ago, my people lived and roamed freely throughout the Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands and along the mainland’s coastline. The fish were plentiful and the land bountiful. We were blessed. Today, we the WSANEC people are reduced to living on small acreages looking out at the ever-expanding society around us while our land is traded and bartered away.

Does anyone really believe that we have been fairly compensated for 160 years of oppressive behaviour on the part of the invading Europeans who destroyed our way of life, stole our land and have tried everything to break us? As First Nations we strive to exercise our aboriginal rights and treaty rights that are continually questioned by society and are regularly discarded by government officials. Why is this?

Although my community struggles to meet the economic demands of society, our identity as WSANEC First Nation People is alive and strong. The fact that our families know our lineage and witness our history in the memories and stories of our elders give great strength for us as a people. Our history goes back in time long before any land was designated as farm land by a government that is not our own.

Our extended families and our cultural practices are unique in modern Canadian society dating back farther than the 160-year mark of the settlers. We identify with our traditional territories and have a long history to this land. While we have our problems, many of which are related to the atrocities that have occurred in our lives and those of our ancestors, we are not a defeated people. In 1852, before British Columbia became a province, we were recognized as a sovereign people when Governor James Douglas signed our treaty. Douglas didn’t defeat us and the bureaucrats and politicians of today won’t defeat us either.

Economically, Tsartlip is not a rich community. A high percentage of our population is under 20 years old. We are growing quickly, and our land base for housing and economic opportunities is limited. Close to 50 per cent of our families live off reserve and our population is increasing annually.

Why shouldn’t we look at Woodwynn Farm, land on the very border of our reserve, and say to the Canadian government, we want you to buy that farm for us. There is not much land left around here. Let us have back a part our traditional territory.

Woodwynn Farm should be returned to the WSANEC Tsartlip First Nation.

When this happens, we will be pleased to discuss possibilities with those currently lobbying to purchase the property about how we might work together for the benefit of all our surrounding communities.

Chief Ivan Wayne Morris wrote this on behalf of the council members of the Tsartlip First Nation.

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