Sliammon consults with Texada

By Tom Read

Part of Pocahontas Bay, with our dog Rocky entering the water in the foreground, taken about three years ago.

It was a night of firsts, none spectacular, but each meaningful nonetheless.

Last Monday evening, at the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, Sliammon First Nation officially came to Texada Island to inform our community about its land claim near Pocahontas Bay and to solicit our feedback on that claim. About 30 Texadans turned out to hear Roy Francis, Sliammon’s treaty negotiator for the last 13 years and a former Chief of his band, explain why his community had requested ownership of approximately 400 acres around Pocahontas (excluding the foreshore), with an option to purchase an additional 250 adjacent acres to the south. At least six provincial and federal treaty negotiators also spoke at the meeting, mostly about the history and process of “modern” treaty negotiations.

The first “first” is that Sliammon came to Texada to discuss its plans with our community. Our Official Community Plan requires Texadans to consult with Sliammon about land use proposals on Texada, including such seemingly routine items as water licenses. But we have no authority to compel Sliammon to reciprocate. So I was pleased that Sliammon took the initiative and reached out to Texada, albeit well after reaching agreement with the provincial and federal governments. In my opinion this is a step toward better future consultation between our communities.

Second, Roy Francis, a middle aged lifelong resident of Sliammon (located just north of the city of Powell River), said that he had come to Texada hundreds of times, but by way of his own boat, often landing at Pocahontas Bay. This is quite in keeping with the history of the Coast Salish peoples, who normally lived along the shore, rarely ventured inland and preferred travel by boat rather than by land. It also underlines the reasoning behind Sliammon’s land claim on Texada. According to Mr. Francis, his community needs a sheltered launch site for boats in the area to maintain its fishing rights, which extend to the southern tip of Texada Island. No logging or development is planned, nor does Sliammon expect to sell the land to a developer. Mr. Francis agreed, however, that such activities would be within Sliammon’s rights under the treaty, with appropriate consultation of other parties as required by law.

Third, as a “new” landowner on Texada Island, Sliammon has distinguished itself by inviting Texadans to continue using Pocahontas Bay and environs for casual recreation, “but not for camping more than a night or for long-term occupation,” said Mr. Francis. It is unusual for a private landowner to be so explicitly generous and non-bureaucratic about access by locals. There will be no gates or “Keep Out” signs.

Finally, Mr. Francis casually debunked a long-held myth about Texada Island: that the Sliammon people did not live here in antiquity because they had long ago beheld the rapid rise of Texada from the sea, and feared it would someday collapse back underwater. “That’s not true,” he said. “The middens on Texada are three to four feet deep, indicating a very long, continuous presence. They [his ancestors] liked the protected areas, including Pocahontas Bay.”

Sliammon First Nation is quite close to achieving a final treaty agreement with the provincial and federal governments, and the acreage around Pocahontas Bay will be part of it. Although we were included late in the process, the outcome looks positive to me.

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