This summer, the process of restoring MÁWUEĆ , the former Woodwynn Farm will begin. The 78-hectare property known as MÁWUEĆ was transferred back to Tsartlip First Nation in December 2020.
The 78-hectare property known as MÁWUEĆ was transferred back to Tsartlip First Nation in December 2020.
Located directly adjacent to what is now the Tsartlip reserve, MÁWUEĆ was part of the original W̱ JOȽEȽP’ village site prior to colonization. After contact and the implementation of the reserve system, the community lost access to the majority of their territory: “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.” shares Paul Sam (TELAXTEN), Tsartlip Councillor and Elder.
After 11 years of efforts by leadership to assure its return, a $7.7 million grant was secured from the Province of BC in order to transfer ownership of MÁWUEĆ back to the Tsartlip First Nation.
“This is, in many ways, reconciliation taking place. The return of this land is a step in the right direction.” shares Chief Don Tom. “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.”
Shown above, Chief and Council celebrate the return of MÁWUEĆ in a video documenting the historic transfer.
However, in the 150+ years since MÁWUEĆ has been under Tsartlip stewardship, it has undergone dramatic changes.
“After the land became not part of our reserve lands and was purchased by one of the settlers, the trees were cleared and burned, and some of our people cried.” shares Gordon Elliot, Councillor.
The clearing and burning of grand cedar stands was the just beginning. Where traditional hunting grounds were, uninhabitable barns pose a safety risk. The river, formerly used for fishing trout, known as sacred water and where salmon used to spawn, has become a creek polluted with agricultural chemicals. Where great stands of first-generation cedar were used for ceremony, making canoes and sourcing ancient medicines, only farmer’s fields lie.
While it’s not possible to bring back first-generation cedar trees, the leadership is committed to restoration: “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.” Joe Seward, Tsartlip Councillor, said.
The process of reawakening the land starts this summer with a team of 10 community members, employed for the specific purpose of remediating the environment, fulfilling a long denied duty of care. “We don’t own that land”, Verna Ellsworth, Councillor says, “We belong to it”
The enormous task of restoration includes soil and creek remediation and demolition and removal of derelict buildings. Meanwhile, continued community engagement sessions direct the uses of MÁWUEĆ going forward.
“We recognize the importance of stewardship to ensure the environment of this land is sustainable.” Chief Don Tom said. Currently leased by a hay, fruit and grain farmer, MÁWUEĆ traditionally had a multitude of uses. “Everything in our culture has a purpose, from the biggest animal to the smallest insect, and that’s what I think of when we speak of the significance of this land. We’re going to restore everything from the ground up, right from the roots.” shares Joe Seward.