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Tsawwassen First Nation told to increase land base

Former senator Gerry St. Germain encourages First Nation to add to territory during address to legislature

The Tsawwassen First Nation should make every effort to add even more land to its territory, says a former Canadian senator.

Gerry St. Germain was the special guest speaker at a TFN legislative session at the Tsawwaassen Recreation Centre Monday evening, where he was thanked for all his work on behalf of First Nations people.

St. Germain, who lobbied for the passage of the historic TFN treaty while in the Senate in 2009, offered advice to the Tsawwassen legislators, including expanding their land base, as they continue to draft laws and prepare for a huge economic expansion.

"Continue to add to your reserve if you can because, I believe, the land base is what aboriginal peoples are all about," said St. Germain.

It was the second time the 75-year-old, who retired from the Canadian Senate this month after almost 20 years, has spoken to the TFN legislature.

The former Conservative MP became the country's first Metis to be appointed to cabinet.

In the Senate, he was appointed chair of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee. One of his last acts in the upper house was the introduction of a bill calling on government to recognize the inherent right of self-government for First Nations.

He pointed to the few examples in the country where self-government has been established, including the TFN.

His committee earlier this year released a report looking at the 20 years since the establishment of the B.C. treaty process. That report was particularly critical of the federal government for the slow pace of treaties, noting that focused attention and a renewal of efforts are required.

At Monday's event at the TFN, he said the First Nation is making remarkable progress since receiving its self-government agreement.

"You, all as legislators elected by your people, hold the power to determine your own destiny. But more importantly, as well, is to create your own prosperity. But in order to achieve, you must be able to plan your work, then work your plan... Tsawwassen First Nation has already established some of these economic goals by attracting investment to your lands.

"This investment is critical as economic development and the proceeds that flow from it will be the backbone of your economy. These are funds that will pay for your social services and these are the resources that will provide a sustainable future for your people."

St. Germain said it's critical to maintain strong, stable leadership in order to attract new investment and establish long-lasting business relationships.

He cautioned TFN legislators to maintain their land and not squander it away as was the case experienced by some U.S. First Nations. He reiterated a key to maintaining the territory is to continue expanding it.

St. Germain added it's also an important time for the TFN as it must determine how to redistribute the wealth.

"That remains a huge challenge for First Nations, and not only First Nations, but a lot of wealthy families in the non-aboriginal communities. How do you redistribute wealth without spoiling the generation that's coming forward?"

The legislature's other business Monday included an economic development update from Ed Chanter, the TFN's director of lands.

Chanter said Aquilini/ TFSI Development Limited Partnership has built two show homes and will build a marketing centre for the Tsawwassen Shores housing development.

Meanwhile, a series of meetings have taken place with a separate developer, Onni Group, about another potential development.

Another developer has approached the TFN about a major development on a series of lots south of Highway 17.

On another front, final rezoning is still needed for the major shopping mall developments to be built in the next couple of years, but filling approval has already been granted and will get underway early next year.

sgyarmati@delta-optimist.com