First Nation's plans for Summit Lake presented

Fraser-Fort George Regional District directors were given an update Thursday on a plan to transfer Crown land within the Summit Lake townsite to the West Moberly First Nation as part of a treaty settlement agreement.

In a presentation, Dale Morgan, the northeast regional manager for the B.C. Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, said the move emanates from a miscounting of the number of people involved when, in 1914, Treaty 8 was expanded to include First Nations in the B.C. Peace.

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As a consequence, West Moberly did not receive all the land it was entitled to. Fast forward 100-plus years and work is being carried out to make good on the shortfall while also providing the First Nation with additional land in acknowledgment of the loss of use over that time.

"You can't just say, 'oh well, it's been 100 years, we'll give you exactly that amount that you were owed from 100 years ago,'" Morgan said. "There has to be, and there is, recognition that they have lost the use of that land opportunity for 100 years.

"We're not just providing the land that was not provided in 1914 but also providing a negotiated settlement to provide more lands."

Additionally, in 2017 the B.C. Supreme Court agreed with Treaty 8 First Nations that the western boundary is at the height of land separating the Arctic and Pacific watersheds rather than the central range of the Rocky Mountains.

Morgan said the ruling has been appealed to the federal courts and so, the land to be allocated will be as fee simple rather than reserve due to the current uncertainty. If 2017 decision is maintained, West Moberly will have the right to convert the sites into reserve land.

Morgan provided a series of maps showing the land drawing West Moberly's interest. It's looking at five plots adding up to just under 160 hectares, none of it developed.

Most of it is adjacent to the residential areas along Summit Lake itself and would be used for additional housing and community development, but also includes a spot to the south and alongside Highway 97 deemed a prime spot for a gas station.

And while Summit Lake is generally considered to be within McLeod Lake Indian Band territory, West Moberly already owns some land within the townsite. Overlap of traditional territory is common, Morgan said, and added that affected Indigenous groups must also be consulted on any land transfer.

Directors were told that the sewage lagoon for Summit Lake is now at capacity but Morgan said West Moberly has been active in keeping its home lake clean and would have the same interest in protecting Summit Lake.

The process is "absolutely separate" from development of the strategy for conserving the Southern Mountain Caribou, Morgan also confirmed.

He said the process could take another two years before it's completed but believes an agreement on the final selection of lands and approval to transfer can be reached before the next federal election in October.

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