There’s a sizable Kwantlen First Nation reserve just across the Fraser River, but a good chunk of it can’t be used right now.
The reserve, IR 5 on maps, has contamination from being a dump site more than 35 years ago.
“There was a lot of bad leases written by INAC [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada] in the past,” said Les Antone, a councillor with the Kwantlen First Nation.
While the band got lease revenue from projects like the dump site, there was little consultation with the chief or band, and there was no follow up or monitoring by Indian Affairs, said Ashley Doyle.
Doyle is the manager of lands and resources for the Kwantlen First Nation.
Similar stories involve several other sites with old leases that were arranged by federal bureaucrats decades ago.
Another site in Whonnock is also being remediated to fix up a former cedar shake mill’s contamination.
IR 3 is largely wetland. Sometime in the 1970s, someone build a road and set up an illegal gravel mining operation on the site.
“They never caught the guy,” said Antone.
The area is next to the artificially created Silvermere Lake.
“Traditional knowledge tells us there’s a burial ground underneath,” said Antone.
Contaminated sites and old leases are among the many issues the local First Nation is facing as it takes over control for its land use policies.
Last year the Kwantlen members voted to adopt the Kwantlen Land Code.
It takes responsibility for land use planning from federal regulations and is allowing the Kwantlen to create their own land use policies, bylaws, and even zoning.
“A lot of these laws require land use planning,” said Doyle.
With the power over land use planning, the Kwantlen have taken on a huge task, but also much more control over their future.
“It requires lots of consultation with the community,” said Doyle.
There are discussions on what to do with various pieces of property, with both elders and a Land Advisory Committee discussing the matter.
Then there may be a community referendum, which is required for any lease longer than 20 years.
Before this, every transaction involving Kwantlen land had to go through the federal bureaucracy for approval.
There are half a dozen plots of land, mostly close to the Fraser River, that represent the current Kwantlen reserves. Some of those reserves used to be much larger, and there were other reserves in New West-minster, Langley’s Glen Valley and other locations.
In the 1930s and ’40s, those lands were taken away or reduced under “dubious circumstances,” said Doyle.
The Kwantlen is now looking for compensation for those lost lands under the Specific Claims Tribunal, established in 2008.
The Kwantlen also own private land, which includes the luxury car dealership sites on the Langley Bypass, and a plot in Maple Ridge they’re considering for a home subdivision.
Then there’s the road and the old ferry dock.
When the Albion Ferry stopped operating, the Kwantlen residents were hopeful they had solved a major problem.
“We were so optimistic,” said Antone.
There had been daily confrontations near the ferry roadway. Some people waiting for the ferry even got out of their cars and urinated off the road – and into the front yards of Kwantlen band members living there.
But so far, TransLink hasn’t taken down its old dock, which means nothing else can happen. The site has overlapping authority of multiple governments, including TransLink, the DFO, Langley Township, and the provincial government.
The Kwantlen have set up their own harbour authority, and are considering what to do with the site. The community has rejected development ideas that would have brought back more traffic – they’ve already got enough people using the road as a drag strip.
With numerous land use decisions to come, the community is trying to make sure they are all sustainable.
“We try to think seven generations ahead,” said Antone.
Doyle said the community will manage it better than Ottawa did.
“They don’t know the land like Kwantlen does,” she said.