After 18 years of construction, Doig River First Nation in northeastern British Columbia marks the start of a new three-hectare shopping center in Fort St. John, a development celebrated with an official ceremonial dedication. Opening Tuesday — National Indigenous Peoples Day.
The site is part of a Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) agreement with Doig River and neighboring Blueberry River First Nations ceding 52 square kilometres, or 5,200 hectares, of land in British Columbia and Alberta. The reclaimed lands were stripped of indigenous communities in the 1900s and opened up for settlement.
“What a relief… It’s amazing,” Doig River Coun said. Garry Oker told TAUT sunrise north On Tuesday, after a recent referendum the First Nations approved the TLE agreement.
“We’re really, really happy that people see the opportunity [to] move forward to manage our own resources.”
Oker said reclaiming the land and developing the business center called Naache Commons – or Dreamers Commons – will enable the country’s 900 members to develop the land and create major business opportunities, such as building a resort. – much-awaited service.
The TLE agreement follows a 2021 BC Supreme Court ruling that found years of intensive industrial development in the area violated the Treaty 8 rights of the Blueberry River First Nations. The province has failed to uphold the nation’s rights to hunt, fish and trap without interference, said the landmark decision that has helped pave the way for new First Nations-led developments in the area.
“Land Promised But Taken”
A joint statement from Doig River and Blueberry River First Nations says their members voted “overwhelmingly in favor” of negotiated TLE settlements on June 15. This allows them to sign agreements between themselves, the federal government and the British provinces. Colombia and Alberta.
The Nations are both made up of descendants of the Fort St. John Beaver Band.
“Our community has looked forward to this day since our claim was submitted to Canada in 1999,” said Doig River Chief Trevor Makadahay.
The federal government officially recognized the claim in 2004.
Makadahay said while it is a time to celebrate, it is also a time to “reflect on the hardships that many of our elders have gone through over the years” at the hands of multiple governments.
Blueberry River Chief Judy Desjarlais said after nearly 20 years of negotiations, finally reclaiming the land “is a generational opportunity for our nation.”
“Chief and Council look forward to working closely with members to realize a community vision for settlement funds and lands,” she said.
Business center a “return to our hometown”
Oker said that over the past century, nations have “definitely lost opportunities to create wealth and do business.”
“So we’re coming back to Fort St. John, our hometown, to build [our] urban reserve,” he said, noting that he expects the land to be fully returned to the nations early next year.
The Naache Commons will be located opposite Margaret ‘Ma’ Murray Community School on the west end of town. Oker said future plans for the area include restaurants, traditional Indigenous health and wellness services, other commercial spaces and multi-family dwellings.
He said the dedication ceremony held on Tuesday included traditional prayers, dancing and food, as students from the nearby school sang in the Beaver language. Politicians and elected municipal officials from several levels of government took part.
“Everyone is focused and…excited to do something,” Oker said.
“We are all up to the challenge of creating this incredible opportunity for present and future generations.”