W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust
The purpose of the W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (WLTS) is to provide a place for land to be returned to the W̱SÁNEĆ people who were stripped of their lands through colonization. Although the main goals are to help future generations of W̱SÁNEĆ access 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.
Why the WLTS?
The W̱SÁNEĆ have had a sacred obligation to care for the land and waters since the beginning of time. These obligations were given to the W̱SÁNEĆ by XȺLS (the creator) and although limited, were fundamentally recognized through the creation of the 1852 Douglas Treaties.
The W̱SÁNEĆ Lands Trust Society (WLTS) is a not-for-profit organization with charitable status. It has also recently become an approved recipient under Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Ecological Gift Program and is the first Indigenous organization in Canada to receive land under this program.
The ability to attract private land return opportunities is of particular importance to W̱SÁNEĆ because of high rates of private land ownership within W̱SÁNEĆ territory. This means there is very little land available for return through reconciliation processes with the Crown. The WLTS furthers this goal by accepting donations of land to W̱SÁNEĆ, restoring land harmed by colonization to ecological balance, and accepting monetary donations to facilitate their work.
Although the WLTS was created by the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council (WLC), it now stands as its own Land Trust entity and is a separate legal body from WLC.
The purposes of the WLTS, as set out in its constitution, are:
- to hold lands in trust for the benefit of W̱SÁNEĆ (the emerging people);
- to provide an amenity to W̱SÁNEĆ by establishing and maintaining spaces for the sustainable exercise and enjoyment of W̱SÁNEĆ rights and title and Douglas treaty rights;
- to protect and care for sites of ecological, historic, and cultural value within W̱SÁNEĆ traditional territories on behalf of all future generations, in order
- to protect and care for the natural and cultural heritage of W̱SÁNEĆ, to further reconciliation, to honour the Douglas treaties, and to respect W̱SÁNEĆ rights and title;
- for the attainment of the above objectives, to seek and receive donations of money, land and other property for the purposes of the Society; and
- to do all such other things as are incidental or ancillary to the attainment of the purposes and the exercise of the powers of the Society.
The WLTS will achieve these goals by providing a place for land to be held collectively, across the W̱SÁNEĆ Bands, and by making land return and the provision of financial support easier for private donors.
The W̱SÁNEĆ people have had a sacred obligation to care for the land and waters since the beginning of time.
These obligations were given to the W̱SÁNEĆ by XȺLS (the creator) and although limited, were recognized through the creation of the 1852 Douglas Treaties. Due to the multiple assaults of colonialism, W̱SÁNEĆ people have been left with very little land, this has harmed W̱SÁNEĆ people – whom have lost access to food, medicine, their economy and important materials and space for required for cultural practices – and access to care for the land – much of which is now is need of restoration due to harms caused by farming, development, and industry. The W̱SÁNEĆ community is working to recover land for the benefit of the W̱SÁNEĆ people and the land itself.
WLTS was formed in 2021 as a modern expression of these obligations and as vehicle to return 9.67-acre SISȻENEM (Halibut Island) to the W̱SÁNEĆ by The Land Conservancy of British Columbia in 2021. The agreed transfer was the first of its kind in Canada between a land trust and an Indigenous community.
Since 2021 the WLTS has been working to achieve charitable status and to properly set up the Lands Trust so that it is able to accept and govern land in a responsible way, one that recognizes the need to conserve and protect some land and the need to bring in land that will help with the economic sustainability of the W̱SÁNEĆ communities.
WLTS is a collaborative organization consisting of several W̱SÁNEĆ Communities and working to partner with other W̱SÁNEĆ organizations. Together we are stronger.
The agreement to return SISȻENEM to W̱SÁNEĆ was the first donation agreed for the WLTS and was the impetus for the creation of the WLTS. The agreement was signed by the WLC and the Land Conservancy—with the support of Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout leadership, generous private donors and Dr. Tara Martin, UBC Faculty of Forestry’s Conservation Decisions Lab Head.
Subsequently, a $10,000 grant from the Cereus Fund through the Victoria Foundation to the Habitat Acquisition Trust was used to support the launch of the Lands Trust and essential work for upcoming transfers. The Cereus Fund was established by the late environmental philanthropist Susan Bloom.
August 3rd, 2023 the WLTS announced the return of privately-owned farmland at ȾIKEL (Maber Flats) for restoration as a wetland.
This area was historically managed by W̱SÁNEĆ people for food, medicines and other important materials. SX̱ ELE,IȽĆ (pacific willow) harvested at the site was used to make reef nets, which are a unique W̱SÁNEĆ technology that enabled W̱SÁNEĆ to fish at sea. Unlike all of the other First Nations in the area, there are no rivers within the W̱SÁNEĆ territory so reef net fisheries are a fundamental part of the W̱SÁNEĆ identity as well as the economy.
ȾIKEL was converted to agricultural land as a result of colonization and is now in need of significant remediation to remove invasive species and restore ecological balance. The site also plays important ecological roles for the whole region and will be restored to a functional peatbog that will help to control flooding in the area and improve downstream impacts of pollution in the Saanich Inlet (another important harvesting site for W̱SÁNEĆ. Now that the W̱SÁNEĆ people have regained access to this land, an effort is underway to restore it to the wetland it once was.
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Priorities/ Next Steps:
- Community involvement on next steps for land use
- Community restoration teams to participate in ecological restoration, medicine gathering etc.
- Identifying desirable land to return
Does the WLC own the land?
- No, the WLTS will own the land. The WLTS is a separate legal entity from WLC and from the First Nations the WLC represents. Each of the First Nations who join the WLTS have the ability to appoint Directors to the WLTS Board.
- This separation enables W̱SÁNEĆ Bands to join the WLTS and benefit from any land it holds, irrespective of whether they are also members of WLC at that time.
Is this just for ecological restoration?
No. While ecological and cultural restoration of land will be an important part of what WLTS does, the WLTS will also seek the return of lands for the sustainable exercise and enjoyment of W̱SÁNEĆ rights and title and Douglas treaty rights. In the future, this might include housing and economic development opportunities that will benefit W̱SÁNEĆ and the land the WLTS holds on their behalf.
WLTS hopes to continue returning important land to W̱SÁNEĆ stewardship and restoring the ecological, historical and cultural value of lands harmed as a result of colonization.
But, WLTS’s work is only possible with your help.
Now is your chance to make a tangible impact, to right historical wrongs, and to avert environmental disaster and to show your support for W̱SÁNEĆ culture.