“W̱SÁNEĆ Community Members engaging in Cultural Protocol at land return ceremony at ȾIKEL”
(August 18, 2023 – Victoria, B.C.) – A momentous ceremony was held today to celebrate the historic transfer of 45.7 acres of land from the Berglund Family, via Brentwood Developments Ltd., to W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (WLTS) under the Ecological Gifts Program. The event marked the first-ever donation of land in Canada under this program to an Indigenous organization.
The 47.5-acre parcel is in the heart of ȾIKEL (Maber Flats) and will support W̱SÁNEĆ Nation in its stewardship initiatives, as they have been left largely landless due to colonization. This culturally and ecologically significant land is intended to be restored by W̱SÁNEĆ for traditional use.
“Our people have experienced a great loss due to colonization; our land was never ceded or surrendered. Today we celebrate the return of this unceded land, here in ȾIKEL,” said Chief Don Tom, Director of W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (Tsartlip First Nation). “The return of this land will enable us to restore the wetland. This work will foster our sacred responsibility to bring our territory to an ecological balance that we will continue to care for, for generations to come.”
“Chief Don Tom, Director of W̱SÁNEĆ Land Trust Society shares a few words during ceremony to celebrate 45 acres of land return to W̱SÁNEĆ Nation”
The intention of this program, as seen with the ȾIKEL property, is to restore that which has been harmed by colonization to ecological balance and to promote conservation through education. This once-abundant wetland has been mostly lost to development and agricultural land use. But, under the care of W̱SÁNEĆ, this wetland can continue its fundamental role, not only in the lives of W̱SÁNEĆ but in the lives of the animals that share this land and those of all future W̱SÁNEĆ generations.
The transfer of this private land was made possible by the W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society’s charitable and Ecological Gift Program Recipient Status, making it easier for land to be returned to W̱SÁNEĆ and for donations to be made to support W̱SÁNEĆ-led restoration and care of that land. The WLTS was formed in 2021 as a modern means to accept the return of the 9.67-acre SISȻENEM (Halibut Island) to W̱SÁNEĆ from the Land Conservancy of British Columbia. Established by the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, the WLTS is a non-for-profit organization created to hold lands in trust for the benefit of W̱SÁNEĆ.
“The decision by the Berglund family (John, Linda, Brian and Lara) to return this land to W̱SÁNEĆ, at their own personal cost, is a courageous example of how Canadians can support reconciliation initiatives,” said Chief Don Tom. “ We hope the actions of the Berglund’s will lead the way for others to consider how they too can support W̱SÁNEĆ in our efforts to see the return of our homeland.”
This culturally significant event celebrating the return of ȾIKEL speaks to the W̱SÁNEĆ’s sacred obligation to care for the land and waters since time immemorial. The WLTS plans to continue these events in the future as important land continues to be returned to W̱SÁNEĆ by those who seek to right historical wrongs and support W̱SÁNEĆ culture. It is these milestone events that pave the way for future donations and land-back initiatives that support reconciliation for all Indigenous communities across Canada.
“The more we learned about W̱SÁNEĆ history and stewardship, the more returning this property to their care made sense,” said Brian Berglund, Vice-President of Brentwood Developments Ltd. “We look forward to seeing W̱SÁNEĆ restore and reconnect with this site and hope that our donation inspires other landowners to follow suit.”
Due to colonization, private donations are crucial to W̱SÁNEĆ as there is very little land available for return through the reconciliation process with the Crown. The WLTS accepts both land and cash donations on an ongoing basis. For more information about the WLTS or how you can donate, visit www.supportlandback.com.
“W̱SÁNEĆ leadership shares gifts with the Berglund Family”
W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society
The W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (WLTS) is a registered charity and approved Ecological Gifts Recipient, dedicated to providing a place for land to be returned for the benefit of W̱SÁNEĆ who were stripped of their lands. Although the main goals are to help future generations of W̱SÁNEĆ access to land for cultural purposes and to positively impact the environment through W̱SÁNEĆ stewardship, the WLTS will also seek land back for collaborative projects such as community housing and economic development initiatives.
The Berglund Family, through Brentwood Developments Ltd.
The Berglund Family, (John, Linda, Brian and Lara) owned the property since 1989, primarily leasing parcels to nearby farmers, most recently to grow barley. The Berglunds approached the Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) about options for the property or donation possibilities, in which an introduction to the W̱SÁNEĆ was curated.
Habitat Acquisition Trust
Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) is a regional land trust operating on South Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands and has also been instrumental in supporting the arrangements for the ultimate return of this property to W̱SÁNEĆ.
“W̱SÁNEĆ elders gather at ȾIKEL (Mabel Flats) on ceremony to celebrate momentous land return occasion”
For media inquiries, please contact:
Chief Don Tom, Tsartlip First Nation
W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council Chairman
Brian Berglund, Vice-President
Brentwood Developments Ltd.