Members of Cowichan Tribes voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new land code in a vote taken over three days last week.
Of the 602 tribes members who voted, 460 said yes, 141 said no and one ballot was spoiled in the vote on the land code, which the First Nation refers to as Quw’utsun Tumuhw.
Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour said he was not surprised by the result.
“Our staff did an excellent job getting to the people and educating them on what the land code is about,” he said.
“It’s been a long process, but I’m pleased that we finally got here. Now we can begin moving forward with plans to construct new buildings to create more office space, apartments and other uses as we create more business and other opportunities on band land.”
Cowichan Tribes is now the 89th First Nation in Canada and the 49th in B.C. to have voted to a accept a land code.
Under the land code, first established under a framework agreement between First Nations and Ottawa 23 years ago, it’s recognized that First Nations have an inherent right to manage their reserve lands and resources under their own land codes, free from constraints imposed by the province and federal officials under the Indian Act.
In the past, Cowichan Tribes needed permission from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to do any development on its lands, from building homes to leasing property, and the process sometimes took years, stifling many attempts by the First Nation to seize on business, housing and other opportunities.
Members of Cowichan Tribes voted on implementing the land code in 2007, but it was unsuccessful because not enough band members turned out to vote.
This time, the majority vote of those who cast ballots was required for the land code to be adopted, as opposed to the majority of Cowichan Band members who are eligible to vote like it was the last time.
Seymour said he believes many of those who voted against the land code had a lot of misconceptions of what adopting it means for the Cowichan Tribes’ community, even after the extensive education campaign by the band leadership to explain all aspects of the option to them.
“Some think that all the land that everyone has will now become band land, and that’s not true,” he said.
“If band members hold a certificate of possession for their property, they will still own their land under the land code.”
Seymour said a lot of work has to be done to implement the land code.
He said some land-use policies that will be used under the land code are already in place, but a number of new laws and policies have to be put in place.
“There are templates that we can use here, and we’ll be working with a federal land advisory board, which looks after issues like this on land across Canada, to develop our next steps,” Seymour said.