Indigenous Rights Are NOT “On the Table” for Komas Ranch/Islands Trust Rezoning

Pole Raising Mar.25th 2018

Indigenous Rights Are NOT “On the Table” for Komas Ranch/Islands Trust Rezoning

On October 18, 2018, there was a 200 person assembly at The Activity Centre on Denman Island where then Chief Nicole Rempel and K’omoks First Nation elders spoke of their desires relating to significant historical and archeological sites that exist here, and specifically the middens, including those that exist on the beachheads and foreshores surrounding the area known as Komas Ranch. These middens, along with their recorded sedimentary history, are also large burial grounds for the fallen from two waves of smallpox, decimating the indigenous population of taystayič (Denman) and other coastal indigenous communities.

The K’omoks leadership told attendees that they are interested in learning more about their history, but were emphatic that they had no plans for territorial “land back” claims on Denman Island, assuring current occupants of these unceded lands that they should not feel any threat of expropriation through their processes of settling land claims and territorial rights through the treaty process with the Provincial Crown. This is an extraordinarily generous position held by the K’omoks people given colonial history.

Recently, local residents have learned of an expiring Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) land use contract with the current owners of Komas Ranch, and discussions of creating a public access trail to these sensitive archeological sites, something that seems counterintuitive if they are to be preserved and protected. Creating easy public access to these sites would create more foot traffic and more potential to disturb and disrupt their archeological value. 

The expiring land use contract is a separate issue from creating access to the significant historical sites for the K’omoks and other First Nations who hold legal territorial rights on Denman Island. Curiously, a Local Trustee has been publicly quoted as seeing the coming land use bylaw changes as an opportunity to “set the tone for the future” of lands that were “essentially stolen,” while adopting the Islands Trust “staff recommendations, including requirements for the current owners to work with K’omoks First Nation.”

The Islands Trust has limited agency to “require” anyone to work with any First Nation, other than in consultation, as that is the legal jurisdiction of the Provincial Crown, while the Province must surely insist that the owners of Komas Ranch do indeed accommodate K’omoks First Nation in assuring their lawful territorial rights are fully respected. Access to these very significant archeological sites is a primary concern when it comes to First Nations’ dealings with the ranch owners. 

A public access trail is a separate issue to be discussed in the Islands Trust rezoning process, in consultation with the K’omoks about the sensitivity of the area, and specifically in regard to securing their quest to protect their heritage. In this case, using the situational change of an expiring CVRD land use contract to gain a public access trail to the area seems at cross purposes of both reconciliation and of “preserving and protecting” an extremely sensitive historical and ecological area.

“Recognize that “unique amenities” includes cultural heritage and protected heritage sites;

Educate islanders and the general public on the illegality of damaging, looting, and possessing Indigenous cultural heritage and artefacts;

Ensure all agencies and ministries conform to heritage protection and conservation policies and principles as outlined by the Islands Trust and First Nations governments; 

Develop Trust wide heritage preservation overlays to ensure the preservation and protection of cultural heritage, heritage buildings, and cultural sites.”