The City of Nanaimo and Snuneymuxw First Nation are in talks about 1 Port Dr., the potential site of a multimillion-dollar event centre.
Chief John Wesley told the News Bulletin the Snuneymuxw are in the process of negotiations, with letters being exchanged with the city about each party’s wants and needs.
The city owns 10.8 hectares of the total 59-hectare south industrial waterfront, an area with multiple landowners, including the Nanaimo Port Authority and Snuneymuxw. In January, the city announced its property would be home to a proposed event centre, which had come as a shock to Wesley, who told the News Bulletin it’s an extremely valuable area for the First Nation historically and Snuneymuxw had not agreed to the event centre going there.
Asked last week if the First Nation has since given its consent, he says they are sitting down and talking about it, although did not elaborate on what the Snuneymuxw aims to achieve from negotiations.
“We’re talking and we’re at the table and we’re going to see where it takes us,” he said.
Wesley said the two councils have to get over a hurdle around working together, try one project, succeed at that and go to the next one.
“Previous to this they were just doing things without our consent, now there’s a lot of things that are changing now that need our consent. There are specific claims, reconciliation, we’re going down the road of economic development and we want to be successful.”
Tracy Samra, city manager, said the city has been speaking with Snuneymuxw about the south downtown waterfront for a year and the first time the event centre was raised was last June. According to Samra, the city has not asked for Snuneymuxw’s consent for Port Drive, adding that it’s terms like ‘consent,’ ‘legal right’ or ‘duty to consult’ she finds divisive.
She said the point is chief and council and mayor and council have met and will continue to meet not only on the event centre, but also the south downtown waterfront and properties across the community.
“It’s been decades since the city has worked in any meaningful way with SFN and this is a new time and a new era and it’s going to be challenging. We’re not always going to agree, but we’re all committed to staying at the table,” she said.
She said discussions have been about the impact of the event centre at 1 Port Dr. although she wouldn’t elaborate on specifics, pointing out most discussions with Snuneymuxw are confidential. She did say the First Nation has expressed a desire to have cultural, traditional and environmental laws respected and there are talks about where to build a road, at the city’s end of the property, Snuneymuxw’s or in between.
“They have their land and then they have the land called the ‘banana lands,’ and so we’re trying to develop the whole area together so it means some projects are going to be ours, some are going to be the port’s, some are going to be theirs,” Samra said.
For example, the city didn’t purchase all the CP land and Samra said it would be great to have the parcel.
If Snuneymuxw “wants to do stuff and we want to be doing land development together, we have the expertise, why can’t we go together and purchase a property and jointly develop it?”