First Nation reunited with traditional lands in Cariboo through provincial agreement

  • Dec. 20, 2022 8:10 a.m.
Members of Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation (SXFN) are celebrating the return of lands back to the community as part of treaty negotiations. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)Members of Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation (SXFN) are celebrating the return of lands back to the community as part of treaty negotiations. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation (SXFN) is located near the Churn Creek Protected Area and Gang Ranch. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation (SXFN) is located near the Churn Creek Protected Area and Gang Ranch. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Nearly 7,800 hectares of ranch lands, along with grazing licences for 56,000 hectares of land located about 85 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake are being returned to Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation (SXFN) as part of treaty negotiations with the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ).

“Our ancestors would be pleased with the acquisition of the BC Cattle Company,” Kukpi7 Hillary Adam, Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation. “Our Elders brought the land issue forward to governments many times over the years, but it always fell on deaf ears. Our resolve to acquire this land has never wavered, even after we learned the ranch sold earlier this year to a private purchaser. We never gave up hope that it would be ours someday and today with Stswecem’c Xget’tem as the new owners, we have something to celebrate.”

Adam said in 2008, Stswecem’c Xget’tem pursued the Circle S Ranch as part of the treaty land package, but at that time fee-simple lands were off the table in regarfs to treaty negotiations.

“Fast forward to 2022. Times have changed. Today, we’re witnessing a giant step in reconciliation with the provincial government, reconciling past injustices by returning land that was taken from us years ago. We’ve also witnessed reconciliation by an individual, Ross Beaty, and that makes us hopeful that individuals will recognize they can choose to play a part in reconciliation.”

Ross Beaty, a Vancouver geologist, sold the BC Cattle Co. Ranch, along with its cattle ranching company for $16 million to the province for SXFN. The sale of the ranch demonstrates a flexible approach to treaty making with economic benefits for the whole region, noted a news release on the agreement.

Last spring, Beaty purchased the ranch from the previous longtime owners with the intent to restore the lands back to their original, pre-colonial ecology. When he learned about provincial discussions with the Nation to purchase the same lands for the past three years, he decided to sell the ranch.

“My intention on buying the BC Cattle Company ranch lands was to conserve and protect forever these spectacular lands, while operating a model biodiversity-focused ranching operation,” Beaty said. “By transferring the lands to the SXFN under a biodiversity agreement that combines modern science with Indigenous knowledge, this will enhance biodiversity protection of these lands, fulfil my personal reconciliation with Indigenous people in B.C., and support B.C.’s ranching economy.”

Using 100 per cent of the proceeds of the sale, Beaty created a trust for environmental stewardship of the ranch lands, contingent on maintaining a biodiversity agreement between himself and SXFN.

In addition to the purchase of the ranch lands for SXFN, the province is providing these funds to help the Nation transition into ownership of the ranch:

* up to $2.25 million for current livestock and equipment;

* grant funding of up to $750,000 for the first year operating costs; and

* $600,000 payment for additional ranching assets, including livestock and equipment.

“The return of this land to the Stswecem’c Xget’tem First Nation is a historic act of reconciliation. It reunites the First Nation with lands taken from them in the early 1800s. It also represents important reconciliatory action by the private sector through Ross Beaty’s remarkable generosity,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “With this purchase, we are continuing to strengthen government-to-government partnerships, advancing treaty negotiations, and putting the tools for economic development into the hands of the Stswecem’c Xget’tem, whose life has always been centred around the land. Thank you to all involved in making this sale happen.”

As part of these transactions, the province and Stswecem’c Xget’tem have entered into an umbrella agreement that will help resolve ranching issues in the NStQ treaty negotiations. The umbrella agreement sets out the arrangement between B.C. and the First Nation on the approach to address the treaty range overlaps within the Nation’s portion of the larger NStQ territory.

The funding, while assisting the Nation directly in its economic goals and self-determination, also benefits the entire region’s economy with expanded cattle operations.

“We’re overjoyed that this acquisition helps to right past wrongs, but more so that it will be the impetus for change and our ability to create wealth for the benefit of all Stswecem’c Xget’tem members. This is a solid step in self-determination,” Kukpi7 Adam said.

Since 2018, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation (MIRR) has been working toward buying ranches for the four Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) First Nations as part of their treaty negotiations. Along with Stswecem’c Xget’tem (Canoe Creek-Dog Creek) the NStQ is comprised of three other Secwepemc communities: T’exelc (Williams Lake First Nation), the Xatśūll First Nation (Soda Creek Indian Band), located approximately 38 kilometres north of Williams Lake and Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake Band), located approximately 30 kilometres east of 100 Mile House.

The NStQ are in the fifth stage of treaty negotiations with the Province and the Government of Canada.

Read More: VIDEO: Take an aerial tour of Churn Creek Protected Area

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