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B.C. First Nation community receives $59M for lands taken by power company

Federal government provides compensation to Matsqui band in Abbotsford
Matsqui First Nation Chief Alice McKay speaks Wednesday morning (Feb. 21) at a press conference at the band’s community centre. (Ryleigh Mulvihill/Abbotsford News)

Matsqui First Nation in Abbotsford has received a $59 million settlement from the federal government for reserve lands that were taken more than 115 years ago for the construction and operation of a tramway.

The announcement was made Wednesday (Feb. 21) at a press conference with Matsqui First Nation Chief Alice McKay; Gary Anandasangaree, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations; and others.

The settlement is in relation to Canada granting the Vancouver Power Company (VPC) rights of way in 1908 for a tramway across two Matsqui First Nation reserves.

Matsqui did not receive adequate compensation for the taking of its reserve lands nor did the federal government uphold its agreement to ensure rail crossings were built and maintained across the rights of way, a press release states.

“As a result, Matsqui’s access to its reserve lands was cut off,” the release says.

Speaking at the press conference at Matsqui First Nation’s community centre, McKay said the claim was filed in 2010 and negotiations have been underway since 2017.

RELATED: Matsqui First Nation files claim against federal government for sale of reserve lands

She said she hesitates to use the word “reconciliation” when talking about compensation to First Nation communities.

“The reason I don’t like it is because for reconciliation there had to be a relationship to begin with – and there wasn’t,” she said.

“So as we gather here today to recognize the settlement of our VPC-specific claim we are not here for reconciliation. We are here to begin to develop our relationship – our relationship built on recognition, respect and trust.”

McKay said the settlement will not change or fix the past, but it does give hope “for a brighter future.”

“It shows us that … the government of Canada recognizes the harms of the past and is committed to building this relationship, and for that we are grateful.”

Anandasangaree said the federal government has not historically been a good partner in its relationships with First Nations communities.

He said the agreement with Matsqui First Nation (Màthexwi Tribe) is a symbol of the government’s “ongoing commitment to showing up as an equal partner with a desire to do better.”

“This is not about compensation; this is about ensuring what is rightfully yours,” he said.

Matsqui First Nation has other claims still to be settled, including one involving the sale of almost their entire reservation lands 160 years ago by the Colony of British Columbia.

The claim, filed in 2019, states that 99 per cent of the 9,600 acres administered to Matsqui by the government in 1864 was sold out from under them to incoming settlers in the Fraser Valley.

Only a small piece of the original reserve exists today at the north end of Abbotsford along the Fraser River.

In 2020, nine acres at the former site of MSA Hospital on McCallum Road were returned to Matsqui First Nation. The site will be developed into several six-storey apartment buildings and a park.

Matsqui First Nation is a Stó:lō community of nearly 300 members. Its core territory stretches along the Fraser River from Crescent Island to Sumas Mountain, and southward beyond the Canada-United States border.

RELATED: Abbotsford lands returned to Matsqui First Nation

RELATED: Application seeks to rezone former Abbotsford hospital lands for apartment development

Gary Anandasangaree, federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, speaks Wednesday morning (Feb. 21) at a press conference at the Matsqui First Nation community centre. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)
Matsqui First Nation’s community centre is located off Harris Road in north Abbotsford. (Vikki Hopes/Abbotsford News)