The Tseshaht First Nation is applying to the federal government to add properties to their reserve land.
The expansion would include adding properties adjacent to the current Tseshaht reserve land on the former Sproat Lake school grounds that the First Nation purchased years ago, and on the original airport grounds on the west side of the Somass River.
There are several reasons why the Tseshaht want to add to their reserve, but most notably because of housing needs, said Ken Watts, Tseshaht First Nation chief councilor.
“Tseshaht has a desperate need for housing, and we are currently facing infrastructure and geotechnical issues in some of this year,” Watts said. “So, we need to expand for land we already own, just adding it to reserve improves this housing issue.”
Watts also noted climate change as a reason for applying for the expansion and waiting for unmarked graves on their reserve land to be scanned.
“Tseshaht is facing the impacts of climate change and needs to prepare for our future as our current lands may continue to be impacted,” Watts said. “The Alberni Indian Residential School is 100 hectares roughly in size and we have an unofficial moratorium that we will not excavate or build until the land has been scanned for unmarked graves and burials.”
The Tseshaht First Nation has more than 1,200 members with only roughly half living on-reserve.
“Many of our people want to return home but we have a substantial waitlist of members who have applied for nation housing rentals and those that want to build themselves,” Watts said. “While we are pursuing subdivision expansion, that often takes time with governments with various feasibility and design work. Tseshaht however is pushing for housing development off-reserve in our territory within the City of Port Alberni.”
Watts said Tseshaht has done a lot of work at the former Sproat School lands, including securing funding to do a training program on HazMat removal. Members and non-members were trained in how to safely tear down the old elementary school, which is now complete.
“Tseshaht also did a lot of other work on this land including a highest and best-use study, various feasibility work and other economic exploration,” Watts said. “The highest and best-use study determined a mix of commercial and residential, adding this to reserve makes all of that easier for Tseshaht.”
Plans for the former airport lands include a campsite that would allow for 50-100 sites. Watts said this idea came from the Tseshaht’s Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP), a four-year strategic plan and consistent community feedback.
“We are also finalizing and will be having members approve a land-use plan,” Watts said. “We have put forward a Non-Farm Use Permit application with the Agricultural Land Commission of B.C. as the land is in the Agriculture Land Reserve. What complicates things is this property is split between two jurisdictions, the City of Port Alberni, and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and the approval process at all government levels will take time. We believe it will be quicker added to our reserve.”
Adding these lands to reserve will also help Tseshaht connect to city water and sewer, Watts added.
Port Alberni city council has stated it will provide a letter of support to the Tseshaht First Nation to add properties to their reserve land.