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Matsqui First Nation receives $59M for loss of land 116 years ago

The view from Mission, B.C., south across the Fraser River, toward Matsqui. (Justin McElroy/CBC - image credit)
The view from Mission, B.C., south across the Fraser River, toward Matsqui. (Justin McElroy/CBC - image credit)

The Matsqui First Nation will receive $59 million under Canada's Specific Claim Policy for the historic loss of reserve land going back 116 years.

The claim involves a corridor of land that was removed from the Matsqui reserve in 1908 by Canada, and given to the Vancouver Power Company — now B.C. Hydro — to build a tramway.

The settlement recognizes that the compensation given to Matsqui at the time was inadequate, and that Canada breached an agreement to build and maintain rights of way over the rail line, resulting in Matsqui land being cut off from any kind of practical use.

Matsqui Chief Alice McKay said the settlement is not reconciliation, rather hopefully the start of a relationship based on recognition, respect and trust.

"This settlement does not change the past, nor fix it. But it does give us hope for a brighter future, especially for our youth," she said.

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

The settlement announcement was held on Matsqui First Nation and included the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

"This is not about compensation," said Gary Anandasangaree. "This is about ensuring what is rightfully yours — which cannot be returned — is acknowledged."

Matsqui filed the claim in 2010 and began negotiating with the federal government in 2017.

The nation has about 230 members, according to Stanley Morgan, member of the governing council. He said money from the settlement will be used in economic development initiatives with a portion dispersed among members.

In a separate claim filed in 2019, the nation is also seeking compensation for the loss of nearly all of its historic Indian reservation land going back 160 years.

In 1864, Matsqui was allotted 9,600 acres of land as reserve only to have 99 per cent taken and sold to settlers, under the colonial leadership of Joseph Trutch, who became B.C.'s first lieutenant-governor in 1871.

As chief commissioner of lands in the 1860s, Trutch led a profound reversal of Indian lands policy, ignoring existing treaties and allowing reserves to be shrunk and sold.

A tiny sliver of the original reserve exists today as Matsqui Main Indian Reserve No. 2 at the north end of Abbotsford, B.C. — about 64 kilometres southeast of Vancouver — between Harris Road and the Fraser River.