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Squamish Nation breaks ground at Senakw site at south end of Burrard Bridge

Using a hand-carved tool that was traditionally used for digging post holes for houses, Squamish Nation Chairperson Khelsilem broke ground Tuesday on an 11-acre development site flanking the Burrard Bridge.

When completed, a new community called Senakw will feature more than 6,000 mostly rental homes spread across 11 towers.

"The village that was once here had a number of families that have descendants who are here today with us,” Khelsilem said.

Before Europeans set foot on the west coast, a thriving Indigenous fishing and trading village occupied the shore near the mouth of False Creek.

Eventually, the federal government designated 80-acres as reserve land, but over the years parcels were expropriated from the Squamish.

Finally, in 1913, settlers forcibly took the land and pushed the remaining Indigenous residents and their possessions into English Bay on a raft.

"At the time, there were attitudes and beliefs about Indigenous people that have gone away through time,” said Khelsilem.

Since reclaiming their land though a legal battle dating back to 1970, the Squamish have designed a master-planned community that will provide market homes alongside housing for Squamish Nation members.

The federal government has guaranteed a $1.4-billion loan to help finance the first two phases of construction.

"This partnership is the largest First Nations economic partnership in Canadian history. Initiatives like these are reconciliation in action,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Marc Miller, Trudeau’s minister of Crown-Indigenous relations is on the record saying “it is time to give land back.”

But Trudeau suggested Senakw is not a blue-print for how that could look in other places.

"This model won't be something that automatically works in Winnipeg or in Halifax or elsewhere,” he said.

If not a perfect blueprint, other Indigenous nations will likely hope to learn from the Squamish Nation which anticipates Senakw will generate $10-billion in economic activity.

"Wealth that we will generate from our lands to support the aspirations, the dreams, the hopes of the Squamish People, both today and in the future,” Khelsilem said.

The project does have opponents, particularly in nearby Kits Point where some residents feel it brings more density than the neighbourhood can handle.

Because the development is entirely on reserve land, the Squamish Nation is not required to consult with the community or adhere to City of Vancouver land use designations.

So opponents have now directed their energy to stop a proposed access road for Senakw which would run along the side of the site and encroach on a portion of the edge of Vanier Park.

A website with the headline reading “No roadway through Vanier Park” provides a link for people opposed to submit their contact information but the website does not provide any names or contact information for whoever is organizing the protest against the road. Top Stories

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