The Ts’uubaa-asatx (Lake Cowichan) First Nation has been involved in extensive planning, and are reviewing economic development ideas with some already underway, band administrator Aaron Hamilton told the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce at its meeting in late November.
“We are one of the smaller nations in B.C. but our pride and our work ethic don’t allow that to dictate what we do,” he said, pointing to the land-clearing that’s already started on North Shore Estates, where a housing development is set to begin.
“Our core traditional territory is the watershed of Cowichan Lake, from the height of the mountains flowing down. As you can imagine, with a smaller nation, suppositions have just sprung up and we’ve revised those to make sure we had a clear goal.
“Identifying what lands would be available for economic development was one of our key areas. We did community energy planning to see what things were available to us out in the lake. There is no real candidate for run-of-river in this area. We exhausted a lot of resources [through grants they were able to obtain] in finding that out. We also did some emergency planning and continue to work in concert with the Town of Lake Cowichan and the local fire department.”
The First Nation needed to review all federal and provincial programs and services as well as other agencies. Relationship building with groups like the chamber of commerce has been part of that, Hamilton said.
“We started working with the Town of Lake Cowichan about eight years ago. We’ve been approaching each other for services, for letters of support for projects. The town named their square after our nation and we gifted the town with a pole. We had no money to do a pole and my late father-in-law said, ‘Oh, you’ll figure it out.’ We take that kind of leadership in tow and follow that example. We’ll figure it out.
“We also have a protocol agreement with the CVRD. It’s amazing how many things are in common between governments if you just strip it all down to what your mandates are and what your goals are for the community.”
Hamilton said learning about local businesses that are working in the nation’s backyard is also useful.
The community development plan shows that the reserve is intersected by North Shore Road on the south and the Youbou Highway on the north.
“Not everyone knows that. It’s basically stayed treed for a long time, until recently. Another part of the land there is for residential development. On the waterfront is our Kaatza Development and tourism opportunity (Kaatza Adventures).
“Our community wanted to do some kind of non-motorized water adventures on the lake. I’ve done canoe tours before, in Port Alberni. It can be very challenging without enough staff. So, we decided to do non-motorized watercraft rentals. We’ve had mixed success with that over the last four years. We started with a total of eight kayaks and four SUPs and a 16-person fibreglas canoe. Now we’ve purchased another 10 SUPs, four canoes; we have 20 kayaks, and two waterbikes. This year we’re going to try to get guiding involved, maybe on tours around the lake, as well as continue to rent out stuff.”
They have a temporary building to house their lakeside business; it’s built in a similar style to those in the Laketown Ranch village not far away, and construction got an assist from Greg Adams and his folks at the Ranch, Hamilton said, adding that establishing that area was important.
“It’s our community’s only waterfront piece. In order to create economic opportunities, the hardest sell was giving up some of that land. The dock that’s down there now and the park will always belong to our community. But east of that will be open to development. You’ll probably be seeing changes within the next year. There will be a secondary beach. There will be a marina there and other things as well.”
Kaatza Adventures is serving as “a really good entry level” for the band’s youth to get involved in business and public service.
One of the other projects that the First Nation had really hoped would be able to move forward was a health and wellness centre but that’s hit a snag.
When they announced the idea two years ago, there was huge interest from the broader Cowichan Lake community.
“We’re not proceeding with this as it was presented a couple of years back. We were trying to do a joint partnership with Island Health and do a big health building. Island Health is a challenge and they’ll be the first to admit they’re a challenging organization to work with because of the way it’s structured. It wasn’t working well for us and our health provider. What we’ve done is sort of parked that for a bit and we’ll be looking at putting a health building up on our lands. We’ll know where that is in the next couple of years. But it’s pretty much going to be off to the side for now,” Hamilton said.