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‘Historic’ agreement recognizes Belcarra Regional Park as Tsleil-Waututh ancestral home

Metro Vancouver and Tsleil-Waututh Nation will manage park co-operatively
Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson and Metro Vancouver board chair Sav Dhaliwal shake after signing a co-operation agreement for Belcarra Regional Park. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

Metro Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation announced an agreement Tuesday afternoon that will pave the way to co-operative management of Belcarra Regional Park.

The agreement, signed in North Vancouver, recognizes the Metro regional park as the largest ancestral home of the Tsleil-Waututh in the past, with ongoing cultural importance.

The agreement states that Metro and the Nation will work together to protect and preserve the park for future generations.

While the deal doesn’t set out specific actions the Tsleil-Waututh will be involved in, it ensures the nation will be consulted and involved, and that the nation’s historical presence on the land will be recognized, said Ernie George, CAO of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

“It puts the Tsleil-Waututh on the ground,” said George.

Traditionally, the area where the park sits – known as təmtəmixʷtən or Tum-tumay-wa-ton by the Tsleil-Waututh – was the largest village of his people, said George, where many families would spend the winter in longhouses. In spring, those families would typically travel to other villages throughout Burrard Inlet and Indian Arm.

“It’s about having a seat at the table and being heard,” as well as educating others who visit the park and live in the area about the importance that the area holds for the Tsleil-Waututh, said George.

And for the First Nation that’s most closely associated with the North Shore, it’s a chance to highlight its roots on the other side of Burrard Inlet.

“Tsleil-Waututh means ‘people of the inlet.’ It doesn’t mean the North Shore. It means ‘of the inlet,’” said George. “It’s not a big distance. All of our village sites always interacted. The inlet was our highway.”

“It’s a great opportunity for Metro Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh to understand each other’s values and what we’d like to see in the park,” he added.

The agreement formalizes a co-operative relationship that has been in place for several years.

For instance, Metro Vancouver and the Tsleil-Waututh worked together on recent plans for a picnic area at the park.

Sav Dhaliwal, board chair of Metro Vancouver, described the agreement as “historic” and possibly the first of many the regional government intends to enter into with other Coast Salish people regarding cultural co-operation in regional parks.

Dhaliwal said the agreement was open-ended, with no specific terms about what kind of cultural sites or activities would be considered.

“They are the stewards of this land. We’ll work with them,” said Dhaliwal.

George said the Tsleil-Waututh anticipate the agreement working in a similar fashion to the way an agreement with the District of North Vancouver governs co-management of Cates Park/Whey-ah-Wichen in North Vancouver and an agreement with the province covers the Say Nurth Khaw Yum/Indian Arm Provincial Park in Indian Arm.

According to Metro Vancouver, the 1,100-hectare Belcarra Regional Park – directly across Burrard Inlet from the present-day home of the Tsleil-Waututh in North Vancouver – attracts more than one million visitors every year, who enjoy a popular beach, hiking trails and seasonal swimming in Sasamat Lake.

Metro Vancouver’s regional parks system now includes 13,600 hectares of park land, including 23 regional parks, two ecological conservancy areas, two regional park reserves and five greenways.

– with files from Steffan Labbé, Tri-City News