The Sc’ianew First Nation took a big step towards its goal of establishing an Indigenous protected area at Mary Hill on Thursday.
The First Nation announced a standstill agreement signed between the District of Metchosin, Pearson College UWC and the Habitat Acquisition Trust that commits them for the next 18 months to work towards either an Indigenous protected area or a residential development that would see money flow back to the community.
The Te’mexw Treaty Association is currently negotiating with the federal government to acquire the Mary Hill lands as part of the B.C. treaty process. The land has been closed to the public ever since the Department of Defence fenced it off after World War II, but is within the Sc’ianew’s traditional territory.
“We’ve been talking about endangered species, but I think the most endangered species at Mary Hill is the Beecher Bay people themselves. We haven’t set foot on the land in years,” said Chief Russ Chipps, who had never been to Marry Hill in his life before touring it as part of the negotiations. While establishing an Indigenous protected area is the goal, Chipps said “conservation costs money” and the housing needs of the nation need to be met.
“Creating that economic thing – that’s going to bring our people home. We have people out there that have been away from our home for years that have not stepped on Beecher Bay land or at Mary Hill for years,” Chipps added.
The 338-acre area is home to more than 20 species at risk and 15 per cent of the remaining old-growth coastal Douglas-fir habitat, which is extremely rare, according to Katie Blake, executive director of Habitat Acquisition Trust who is working as part of the team.
With its campus on a portion of the Mary Hill land, Pearson College is offering 36 acres of school-owned land to Sc’ianew that is to be included in a potential protected area.
“This initiative, Mary Hill has, for as long as I can remember, been near and dear to the heart of Metchosin residents. It’s a special place, and it’s something that we’ve always believed should be preserved in its natural state, but never knew how to do it,” said Metchosin Mayor John Ranns.
Erin Thomson-Leach, legal counsel for Sc’ianew, said finalizing a deal to establish an Indigenous protected area could take several years, as the treaty negotiations are still ongoing. The decision to establish a protected area would also need to be approved by band members before it can be finalized.