Sunday, July 15, 2007

On Golf Courses and Settling Land Claims

Out here in British Columbia there has be a bit of fuss and feathers over the fact that the Provincial government has been talking to the Musqueam Indian Band over the future of a golf course that is situated near the University of British Columbia. The course is not just near the university it is also quite close to two great enclaves here in British Columbia.

On one side there is the Musqueam Indian Band -- on the other is the great Point Grey Nation. The Musqueam are one of the old salish aboriginal nations who have always held the lands near the mouth of the Fraser River. If you ever have the occasion to read Simon Fraser's diary of his trip down the Fraser, you will smile at his desperate get away from the Musqueam -- you can almost hear him shouting 'run away, run away' as he steals a canoe to start heading back upstream to friendlier Indians. In more recent times, the Musqueam are known for having been one of the bands who started the aboriginal rights ball rolling with a couple of cases about fiduciary duties (about a golf course swindle oddly enough) and fishing rights. The Musqueam over thirty five years have figured out how to take advantage of the urban location of their (relatively small) reserves and have significantly improved the economic lot of the band and the people in the band. They are eager to continue down that road and leave behind the history of poverty and desperation that best describes the situation of most Indian bands in Canada today.
The Point Grey Nation is one of the mightiest forces in British Columbia. They are characteried by wealth, privilege and excellent political connections. The current premier is a member of this band and the elected representative of this band to the provincial legislature. Their residences are surrounded by public amenties (such as Kits Point) which serve all but serve them particularly well (in the form of beautiful vistas and staggeringly large house prices). They are accustomed to easy access to whatever they want. It is hard to imagine a less needy group of people in Canada outside of, perhaps, Rosedale and Westmount. Many of the Point Grey band members enjoy the easy access to the golf course of interest and benefit from the close proximity of yet another piece of publicly owned green space to their homes.

As a result of a court case a few years ago, the Provincial government finds that it has no choice but to talk to the Musqueam about the future of the golf course. The Province proposed cashing in on the land by transfering it to UBC and getting out of the golf course land lord business (a generally good idea). The Musqueam pointed out that this piece of land was one of the few pieces of public land left in their neighborhood that could realistically form part of a settlement of their much larger land claims and expressed some consternation about the idea that the government had mde up its mind about how to deal with the land without really talking to them. Musqueam said it was not really interested in a cheque in lieu of talk and land. A legal fight ensued and the Court of Appeal, in a scathing judgment, directed the provincial government to talk.

Talks ensued and now it appears that there may have been something to talk about after all as the Province and Musqueam appear to be moving toward a deal -- much to the consternation of the Point Grey Nation who fear that their lovely neighborhood golf course may be turned into homes, offices or other economic developments that bring money, employment and future by the Musqueam. Now the leaders of the Point Grey Nation are organizing a bottle drive ($100 minimum deposit if you please -- just give us your old Veuve Cliquot empties) to pressure the government to preserve the golf course and give the Musqueam cash (let's ignore the fact that deal has already been tried). Not at fair market value mind you -- but instead to pay them off at some amount that is calculated by reference to what Indians are supposed to get if they knuckle under to the BC approach. Musqueam has undertandably quietly expressed no interest in this option.

What a joke. Call this what it is -- a proposal that the general public purse should be used to provide a subsidy to the Point Grey Nation by cutting the Musqueam out and essentially expropriating this land (to the extent that there is likely aboriginal title there -- which all recognize is likely). If the Point Grey Nation wants the land for a golf course let them buy it from the Musqueam in the market -- if there is a deal to be had. If BC can work out an accommdation with the Musqueam this carries with it huge potential public value -- the land is taken out of government hands, some part of the outstanding Musqueam claims are settled without years of treaty negotiations and years of nasty court fights over aboriginal title are avoided. There is also the intangible benefit that flows from showing that these claims are resolvable and that BC is in fact open for business. Furthermore, Musqueam is in fact likely to develop the lands in a way that will have spin-off economic effects in Vancouver beyond what comes from a golf course.

Of course, if the members of the Point Grey Nation had to buy their golf course -- rather than merely having it essentially gifted to them in a sweetheart deal by the government -- they might have to move down from Veuve Cliquot to the occassionaly bottle of Henckel Trocken. A tragedy of national importance that is.

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