The Great Land Grab
The arrival of Xwulunitum (the Hul'qumi'num term for non-Native people), — particularly European settlers — dramatically altered the lives and landscapes of the Hul'qumi'num people.
In essence, our land was stolen from us. Though Hul'qumi'num people never surrendered or signed a treaty ceding away our land, several colonial actions dramatically altered access to our traditional lands and resources. First, access to our most valuable lands along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands was limited when settlers pre-empted 59,000 hectares in the 1860s.
More of our land was stolen in 1884 when the federal government handed over 268,000 hectares — 80 per cent of our territory — as payment for the building of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) railroad on Vancouver Island.
The railroad privatized the majority of Crown lands in our territory and made way for large-scale mining, forestry and other industries. This resulted in dramatic impacts to our natural resources; today, for example, only 0.5 per cent of our territory is original old-growth forest.
With settlement, our people were relegated to small land reserves, often the former sites of old villages, burial grounds and fishing camps. The majority of reserves in Hul'qumi'num Mustimuhw territory are tiny — less than 40 hectares in size. The small size was 'rationalized' because of our dependence for livelihood on the sea and foreshore resources. Today with polluted beaches and diminished fish stocks, the reserves feel smaller still.
This, despite concerted efforts to assert our title and resist the colonial alienation of our lands and resources since first contact with European settlers. After Xwulunitum settlement, our ancestors are reported to have confronted early colonial settlers and attempted to undermine their claims.
Crown lands currently make up 48,000 hectares of land in our territory, comprising 15 per cent of our Statement of Intent. Approximately 8,000 hectares are held as parks and protected areas. Crown lands will form an important core of the treaty settlement land package, increasing our land base beyond the reserves in economically and culturally important areas of our territory.
Unlike most First Nation territories in B.C. where there is abundant Crown lands, our territory is currently 84 per cent privately owned. This is not just residential and agricultural land (81,000 hectares); even the forests (199,000 hectares) are largely held by a few private companies.
Virtually all of the ocean and riverfront properties are held in private residential ownership. In addition to being highly economically valuable today, these waterfront areas are historically and culturally important to the Hul'qumi'mum people.
The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group (HTG) is negotiating to have private lands purchased by government as part of the treaty package on a willing buyer/willing seller basis. These lands are critical in meeting the community housing, economic and cultural land needs of our people into the future.
Critical to creating healthy Hul'qumi'num communities is having access to the natural resources both within and beyond our core traditional territory. Marine and forest resources have always provided food for our people and played a key role in our social and cultural lives. These resources are essential to sustaining our economies and generating wealth for our communities. Our once-rich ecosystem has been depleted over the years by over-harvesting, pollution and ongoing development. Accordingly, we have lost opportunities to prosper from our traditional ways of life.