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CONTRIBUTION · 10th July 2012
Like Songhees, group lays claim to prime chunks of capital real estate.

The Esquimalt First Nation has launched a civil suit asking the federal and provincial governments to recognize its claim to land promised by one of the Douglas treaties 160 years ago.

The suit is similar to one launched by the Songhees First Nation in November 2009, which lays claim to part of Uplands, the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Cadboro Bay Village, Gyro Park and Telegraph Cove.

The civil actions will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court in May 2013.

The Esquimalt First Nation is not trying to reclaim the land, but is asking for compensation and a declaration that it is Songhees and Esquimalt land.

The suit, filed by Chief Andy Thomas and Coun. Barbara Lecoy, says that the Esquimalt First Nation, like the Songhees First Nation, are descended from the Lekwungen people who lived in southern Vancouver Island around 1850.

From time to time, the Lekwungen was organized into tribal groups. These groups had a collective identity, spoke the same dialect, shared seasonal village sites and territory for hunting and gathering.

After 1850, the Lekwungen tribal groups, including the Chekonein, joined together and intermarried.

Today, the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations represent the original tribal groups, the claim says.

On April 30 and May 1, 1850, James Douglas, chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company, entered into six agreements with six tribal groups.

The treaty with the Chekonein people specified they would have 200 acres around their Cadboro Bay Village site, adjacent to the beach, and about 40 acres of camas and potato fields.

But the governments of the day failed to survey, set aside or protect the treaty lands, the claim says. Rights, titles and interest in the treaty lands were granted to third parties and governments failed to pay compensation for the loss of the treaty lands.

"I've always said there's a lot of unfinished business dealing with this treaty," Thomas said Monday. "The treaty implementation part was never completed. When B.C. joined Confederation, they imposed a reserve system on us and left our treaties in limbo.

"Now it's starting to come out and this is an opportunity for our nation to be able to complete some of the work that our own people started when they signed the treaty 160 years ago."

Thomas said it was always his intention to file a suit similar to the Songhees' claim.

"We've been doing our work on this," he explained. "I think for the longest time, everybody has tried to divide us, Esquimalt and Songhees. And we're related and we've always been related, close relatives."

Songhees lawyer Rory Morahan said he would be reviewing the documents carefully.

"All counsel are looking at each other's theories and we will be reviewing Esquimalt's theory to see if there are any admissions," Morahan said.

"One of the keys here, when you're responsible counsel, is to work out what are the critical elements for admissions and what are the contested facts. And these are not easy things when you're covering from at least from 1843 through to 1911."

It's far too early to know what the ultimate effect of the Esquimalt civil suit will be, Morahan said.

In 2006, the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations accepted a settlement of $31.5 million after filing a lawsuit claiming land in downtown Victoria, including the B.C. legislature lands.

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