Politicians weigh in on Kwikwetlem Riverview claim Chief wants ‘highest and best use’

JEREMY DEUTSCH / TRI-CITIES NOW   JULY 16, 2014 12:00 AM

It appears the process of deciding what to do with the Riverview lands will continue, even though the Kwikwetlem First Nation has claimed title over the entire property.

Chief Ron Giesbrecht said his band doesn’t want to stop the process currently underway, noting BC Housing and the City of Coquitlam have been asking for input from the band as a stakeholder.

“It was just time that we came out with what we think is right for our nation,” he told the Tri-Cities NOW.

But Giesbrecht said the band wants to make it clear that it’s not entering the process as a stakeholder, but as an owner.

Last week, the Kwikwetlem First Nation announced it had claimed title interests to all the lands associated with Riverview Hospital, among other areas in its territory.

However, exactly what the Kwikwetlem envision for the property is unclear.

Giesbrecht said the band wants the “highest and best use” that is in the best interest of the first nation.

Asked what he thought about the vision put forward by the City of Coquitlam, the chief didn’t offer a specific opinion.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If that’s what they [City of Coquitlam] would like to see, I’m sure all the other stakeholders have their opinion as well,” he said. “We’re allowed to voice it and that’s what the nation is doing is voicing their opinion right now.”

Just last month, Coquitlam released a wideranging report calling for the lands to be used as a health and wellness campus, an acute-care hospital and a purpose-built psychiatric hospital. While a number of first nations around the province have already made, or are expected to make, claims on land following a recent Supreme Court decision that recognized aboriginal land title, one local MLA sees the Kwikwetlem situation as being different.

Coquitlam-Burke Mountain MLA Doug Horne suggested the court ruling granted title for a specific piece of land, pointing out the Kwikwetlem have not been given title to the Riverview lands.

Instead, he said, the provincial government has protocols in place to consult with the band on the redevelopment of the property. “Our belief is it’s important to work closely with first nations and to consult and to make certain we have clarity and agreement as we move forward,” Horne said.

“At this point, no title has been granted to Riverview to the Kwikwetlem band.”

The MLA said he’s spoken with the chief and believes the band won’t block the process currently underway. As for the suggestion the band wants the “highest and best use” for the site, Horne sees that as being some type of market housing, which he said the province might not support.

“The review we’re doing isn’t how can we get the most money out of the site possible, the review is how do we continue to have Riverview as a wonderful place within our community as it has been for over 100 years,” he said.

A statement released by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation John Rustad echoed the local MLA’s opinion.

“Unlike the Tsilhqot’in people, where title has been declared to a particular piece of land, there has not been a similar declaration to the Kwikwetlem First Nation in this area. Therefore, the Kwikwetlem First Nation are in a different situation,” the statement said.

“We believe working in partnership with first nations is the best way to provide a meaningful role in land and resource management for first nations, and to provide for benefit sharing and economic opportunities. We believe negotiation, not litigation, is the best way to resolve issues that concern asserted aboriginal rights.

“We recognize that Riverview has great historic and strategic value to the community, local first nations and the province as a whole.”

Coquitlam-Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson said she wasn’t surprised by the band’s announcement.

“It is essential that we know where the Kwikwetlem First Nation stands and now that they have let the province know what their intentions are, I look forward to seeing how things unfold,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Tri-Cities NOW.

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