Grace Islet purchase is hard-fought and deserved win for First Nations, says Holman

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VICTORIA – The provincial government’s 180 degree turn in deciding to enter into a partnership to purchase Grace Islet is a hard-fought and deserved win for First Nations on South Vancouver Island, says New Democrat MLA for Saanich North and the Islands Gary Holman.

Holman said a number of First Nations (including the Cowichan, Tseycum, Penelakut, Tsawout, Tsartlip and Pauquachin) stood together to oppose the construction of a home on an ancient burial ground located on Grace Islet on Salt Spring.

“While it’s unfortunate that it took the threat of court action to get the Liberal government to change their mind and finally act, today’s announcement of a purchase is very good news for First Nations and the general public who have supported the preservation of the burial grounds on the Islet,” said Holman.  “I thank Minister Steve Thompson and the provincial government for finally stepping in.

“Because building over the ancient site was allowed to begin, my hope is that over time, the site can be restored to its previous condition.”

Holman, along with Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt, Salt Spring resident Joe Akerman, and many other residents in the region have stood alongside the First Nations from the beginning, saying that permits should never have been allowed to build over the burial site.

For several months, formal requests from First Nations, protests, letters to the government, media exposure and legislation introduced by the B.C. New Democrats (First Nations Heritage Protection and Conservation Act, 2014) failed to grab the Liberal government’s attention. In the meantime, building commenced on the site.

However in November, the Cowichan Tribes filed a notice of claim for the area, forcing the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to admit it has a mandate to resolve the issue with First Nations and the landowner.

“After a year of unnecessary conflict and tragic frustration for First Nations, the Liberal government has finally done the right thing,” said Holman. “I sincerely congratulate First Nations and all those who supported them, for their hard-fought victory today.”