The Tsartlip First Nation took possession of the former Woodwynn Farm property on the Saanich Peninsula on Dec. 16, 2020, after the provincial government and Tsartlip signed a historic agreement to transfer the land to the Nation.
“With the history of colonization in the Saanich Peninsula, Tsartlip people lost much of our land base, our traditional communities,” said Tsartlip First Nation Chief Don Tom. “This territory is Saanich, and Saanich is the emerging land and we are its emerging people. Our nation is excited to acquire this property to expand our land base for our membership. Tsartlip is one of the fastest growing communities in southern Vancouver Island, and land is scarce so close to the city. Acquiring this property almost doubles the amount of land we currently have, so we can begin to plan for current and future generations to support our growing population. We recognize the importance of stewardship to ensure the environment of this land is sustainable.”
The 78-hectare property, once used by the Nation for hunting, farming and traditional practices, is immediately adjacent to Tsartlip First Nation’s only reserve. Tsartlip now has over 1,000 members and the community has run out of space to address the housing, recreational and cultural needs of a rapidly growing population.
“The return of Woodwynn Farms has huge significance and opportunity for the Tsartlip community and Tsartlip people. It is a tremendous step forward to advance reconciliation between the provincial government and Tsartlip First Nation,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “We are committed to working collaboratively, government-to-government, to find creative and flexible ways to meet the needs of individual First Nations throughout B.C. as we work together to support communities and their members to flourish and prosper.”
Tsartlip First Nation was able to purchase the farm from BC Housing through a $7.77-million grant from the Province. Since purchasing the farm in July 2018, BC Housing has leased the property to a local farmer, who is actively farming hay, grain and vegetable/fruit products. Tsartlip First Nation has extended the lease through to Sept. 2021.
Tsartlip First Nation now owns the land as ordinary private property, which is part of the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Nation will consult with their membership to determine how to best use the property going forward.
“I was raised a farmer, hunter and fisherman on this land,” said Paul Sam (Telaxten), Tsartlip Councillor and Elder. “At one time, our people hunted and fished up and down this coast. My grandfather grew fruit and vegetables here. But our people were outnumbered, outgunned and pushed onto small reserves. Sir James Douglas signed a treaty with our leadership at Pkols, Mount Douglas. But the treaty was not honoured, and our reserve got smaller and smaller. Residential schools took away a lot of our children. I was taken away. This is not easy to talk about, but it’s our history. I’m fortunate I grew up with great-grandparents, grandparents and parents all fluent in our Sencoten language, which I learned first before English. I know the history and place names and culture of this territory we call Máwueć. Recently, I graduated with my youngest son from the Indigenous Language Revitalization Program at the University of Victoria, where I also learned to read and write in my language. Now I have grandchildren who are also fluent from taking the immersion program at our tribal school. We are reclaiming our rightful history.”
Joe Seward, Tsartlip Councillor, said: “My grandfather talked about growing up in this territory. As a child, his family used to visit relatives in Tsawout (East Saanich) before the roads were built. They had to bushwhack trails and sometimes camp overnight, as it took a long time to arrive near where Centennial Park is today. Some of our Elders still talk about fishing in Hagen Creek. Salmon used to spawn in the creek before it was polluted by fertilizers. The land at Máwueć, Woodwynn Farm, used to be hunting territory and cedar tree forest, where our Elders and ancestors would harvest medicines. Our people were kicked off that land and settlers cut down the cedar trees. Cedar is sacred to our people. We use the tree for our canoes, paddles and sacred masks. We use the branches to cleanse ourselves. It is very meaningful to our people to have this land returned to our Nation, physically and spiritually, land that was taken away. We want to reawaken the land, heal the land and bring the sacredness back.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tsartlip First Nation has postponed holding a ceremony to celebrate the return of Máwueć to the community but will mark the occasion with the Province once it is safe to do so.