Snuneymuxw First Nation

The Snuneymuxw First Nation (pronounced [snʊˈneɪməxʷ]) is currently located in and around Nanaimo on east-central Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Although the Snuneymuxw now only have a total reserve land base of 266 hectares, divided into small, separated reserves,[1] they once occupied a wide region of south-central Vancouver Island where they lived for more than 5,000 years.[2] Snuneymuxw Territory[3][4] on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Fraser River in the British Columbia was in the center of Coast Salish territory.[3] Their language is the Hul’qumi’num language.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation is responsible for the operation of Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park.

The Manson, Wyse, Good, Seward, White, Wesley, Brown, Johnny and Thomas families are prominent in the Snuneymuxw First Nation community.[2]


The SFN speak the Hul'q'umi'num dialect of Hul’q’umi’num’, Halq'eméylem, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm.[5][6][7]

According to the Snuneymuxw First Nation Language Needs Assessment report of January 2009,[6] published by the First Peoples' Heritage Language & Culture Council (FPHLCC) of a total population of 1560 (with 550 on reserve and 1010 off-reserve)[8] there were 25 people who spoke and understood the language fluently, 11 were between the ages of 65-74, 13 were between the ages of 75-84 and one was 85 and over. There were 35 who understood and/or spoke somewhat. 4 were between the ages of 25-44, 23 were between the ages of 45-54 and 8 were between the ages of 55-64. There were 25 people learning the language. Of that group 15 were between the ages of 15-19, 2 were between the ages of 25-44, 4 were between the ages of 45-54 and 4 were between the ages of 55-64.[6]

We have 4 very small reserves much of which are not serviced and therefore we are not able to build housing on parts of them. Culture and Language is lost due to our people being spread out and living in many places off reserve.



There was a Snuneymuxw winter village and burial site dating back about 3,500 years, next to Departure Bay's 7-Eleven store. In 2007 the remains of about 15 individuals were uncovered at the construction site of a future condo development owned by Developer Bruce McLay. Madrone Environmental Services from Duncan, BC conducted an archaeological excavation of the site.[9] In March 2013 as part of the reconciliation agreement, this site was transferred to the Snuneymuxw.[10]

Snuneymuxw spokeswoman Geraldine Manson said it is rare to find an undisturbed Snuneymuxw burial site in the Nanaimo area. She said while Snuneymuxw remains have been uncovered at other sites, including the Foundry site downtown [in 2006] they have mostly been disturbed by development activities in the past and scattered over large areas.


Remains of more than 80 people were uncovered. When the late Chief Viola Wyse requested that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell protect the site the province purchased it. It remained "sad, forlorn and neglected", surrounded by a bent chain-link fence and covered in straggled patches of weeds.[11]

The site of the former Moby Dick Hotel, 1000 Stewart Ave, Nanaimo was the former site of a Snuneymuxw village of historical importance to the Snuneymuxw. It is situated at the narrowest point of Newcastle Channel, separating Newcastle Island from Nanaimo. Snuneymuxw Chief White has plans on constructing modest facilities on Newcastle Island to deliver new kinds of programming on Coast Salish culture, Newcastle Island's coal mining history, the CPR history, the canneries history as part of a tourist destination. Snuneymuxw First Nation will be collaborating with Waterfront Holdings Ltd. on current and future waterfront development on Stewart Avenue.[12]

Territory and current land base

Snuneymuxw Territory[3][4] on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, and the Fraser River in the British Columbia was in the centre of Coast Salish territory.[3]

The band's traditional territory covers 980 km2 (380 sq mi), but they share 1,040 km2 (400 sq mi) of non-exclusive traditional territory with other First Nations of Canada.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation received 877 hectares of land, consisting of three parcels of land, in the Mount Benson area, in March 2013 as part of a reconciliation agreement. Ida Chong, B.C. aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister, announced at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre that the land was "intended to provide forestry-related economic opportunities to generate revenue and employment" for the SFN.[10]

The Snuneymuxw previously only had a total reserve land base of 266 hectares with 4 small reserves on the shores of Nanaimo Harbour and Nanaimo River and two tiny reserves at Gabriola Island.[1] Per capita the Snuneymuxw land base is the smallest reserve land base in British Columbia.[1] The community was divided into four separate, numbered reserves near Nanaimo Harbour and Nanaimo River.

The small size and odd shapes and locations of these reserves are visible on the interactive map provided by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Reserve 1, consisting of several city blocks, is between a railroad track and the main highway that goes through Nanaimo. Reserve 2 is on the east bank of the Nanaimo River and is cut off from reserves 3 and 4 by the river. The river and river banks are not reserve land. All three are on the estuary and appear to be in a flood zone.[13] These small reserves are bounded by the main Island Highway, Duke Point Highway and Cedar Road. They are surrounded by the city of Nanaimo but have not been fully serviced with water and sewage infrastructure resulting in underdevelopment of the reserve.[14]

According to the AANRC Profiles, the Snuneymuxw First Nation, band number 648 had six very small reserves.[15]

  1. Nanaimo town 1, also known as Reserve No. 1, (AANRC number 06815) is located in the Nanaimo District on Nanaimo Harbour adjacent to the city of Nanaimo, south of Vancouver Island and consists of 22.40 hectares (55.4 acres).[15] There were 337 residents in 2011.[16]
  2. Nanaimo River 2, also known as Reserve No. 2, (AANRC number 06816) is located in the Cranberry District on the left bank of the Nanaimo River near its mouth and consists of 53.80 hectares (132.9 acres).[15] There were 26 residents in 2011.[16] It has been dissolved and amalgamated with Nanaimo River.
  3. Nanaimo River 3,[17] also known as Reserve No. 3, (AANRC number 06817) is located in the Cranberry District, point of Section 21, Range 1, and Sections 19 and 21 Range 7, near mouth of Nanaimo River, Vancouver Island and consists of 108.30 hectares (267.6 acres). Statistics Canada provides a precise map.[17] There were 81 residents in 2011.[16] It has been dissolved and amalgamated with Nanaimo River.
  4. Nanaimo River 4, also known as Reserve No. 4, (AANRC number 06818) is located in the Cranberry District, Sections 18 and 19, Range 8, 4 miles southwest of Nanaimo, on the east coast of Vancouver Island and consists of 80.10 hectares (197.9 acres).[15]
  5. Gabriola Island 5 reserve (AANRC number 06819) is located in Nanaimo District, Section 1, on the west point at mouth of Degnen Bay, south of Gabriola Island and consists of 1 hectare (2.5 acres).[15]
  6. Ma-guala 6 (AANRC number 06820) is located in Nanaimo District. It is a small island in Degnen Bay on the south shore of Gabriola island and consists of 0.40 hectares (0.99 acres).[15]

Nanaimo River Reserve, with 287 residents, is listed on 30 January 2013, as having undergone an amalgamation. Nanaimo River 2 and Nanaimo River 3 were dissolved and amalgamated into Nanaimo River Reserve.[16][10]


Snuneymuxw First Nation is governed by a Chief and Council. On 7 December 2013 Chief John Gordon (Gord) Wesley was elected with 253 votes out of 499.[18] Five Councillors were also elected to the Office of Chief and Council for up to a four-year term. Elections are carried out in accordance with the Snuneymuxw First Nation Election Code (2007) & Regulations (2011).[19]


The Snuneymuxw First Nation number is 648.[20] The band's population is 1,663, with 65 percent of Snuneymuxw people live off-reserve.

Treaty rights

According to their official website the SFN "are one of the few First Nations in BC that has a pre-confederation treaty with the Crown."[21] The Snuneymuxw have treaty rights pursuant to their Treaty of 1854, one of the Douglas Treaties, confirmed by the landmark R. v. White and Bob litigation of the early to mid-1960s, wherein the treaty was confirmed and enforced, and provincial jurisdiction was ousted.

In October 2012, Chief Doug White met with UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya. Chief White argued that the Canadian federal government "has consistently failed to honour the Treaty of 1854" and has repeatedly broken the Treaty of 1854 during land negotiations. Anaya observed that Anaya "based on his preliminary findings, treaty and aboriginal claims remain "persistently unresolved" throughout Canada" and there is a heightened level of mistrust distrust "among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels."[22]

In 1992, the Snuneymuxw First Nation filed the Thlap’qwum Specific Claim related to the loss of their 32 hectare reserve in downtown Nanaimo. The claim was accepted by the Crown as valid in 2003. After negotiations, the two sides agreed to a settlement offer worth $49,148,121. In November 2016, the First Nation ratified a settlement agreement for the land, which was illegally taken by the crown in the 1880s. The nearly $50 million payment is the largest specific claim negotiated by a British Columbia first nation by a factor of 5. As part of the agreement, the nation can negotiate for an additional 32 hectare of land to be added to their reserve.[23][24]

Social and economic development

Water and Sewage Infrastructure

In 1992 groundwater contamination was found and the wells were closed on the Snuneymuxw First Nation Indian Reserve No. 2. For twenty years the community was forced to subsist using water trucks. In 2010 the city of Nanaimo announced plans for a new water treatment facility but had difficulty acquiring Crown land needed for the project. John Ruttan, Nanaimo Mayor acknowledged that without the assistance of Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White III in acquiring some Crown land "it’s questionable whether we would have been able to achieve what we’ve done." The City of Nanaimo agreed to provide the water to Reserve 2 as part of "the overall agreement." The Snuneymuxw First Nation are paying $500,000 cost of the project.[14] The new water infrastructure project will connect Reserve No. 2 to Nanaimo’s water supply lines at 1125 Cedar Road to provide potable water.[14]

I want everyone to know what this means to our people, what it means to me as the chief of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the work of my council over so many years, to address what is a really critical need for our people for safe drinking water – for an effective, efficient supply of water... White said one reason so much of the reserve remains undeveloped is due to a lack of water and sewage infrastructure.

Doug White III, Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief in Bush 2012

In November 2012 SFN workers began job shadowing City of Nanaimo CUPE Local 401 water crews members to learn foundational skills in maintaining quality water systems through an innovative mentoring program.[25] CUPE's long-term goal is to expand this pilot project to First Nations communities across Vancouver Island. According to Blaine Gurrie, CUPE Local 401 President and member of the Vancouver Island Water Watch Coalition, CUPE working to assist SFN employees to,

become familiar with the hands on day-to-day work involved in a municipality's regular water distribution maintenance programs including emergency repairs and the installation various components... With this model, First Nations communities can supply safe clean water in areas where they have been given the responsibility, but no other assistance from government other than funding.... We have proven by example this expertise can be imparted to manage public water systems, without the need for a private partner... CETA and Bill S-8[26] combined could prevent First Nations from building, owning and operating their own water and wastewater plants.... By not delivering the education to make their legislation work the Federal government is opening the door wider to further water privatization.

CUPE, 2013

Justice system

In 2006 226 First Nations members were imprisoned in the Nanaimo Correctional Centre (NCC), a provincial prison on SFN traditional territory. That represented 21.2% of the prison population. In British Columbia the percentage of indigenous prisoners was 20% in 2004-5.[27]

I’d like to see our system come back. For the sake of our children, that has to come back. And we’ll be proud again like our ancestors, we helped one another, they respected one another. Our culture, our laws were still here when I was a kid and we were happy people. We have to work together. Same as our justice. The whole community’s got to work together before it’ll ever work... The Hereditary Chief was the leader and they had their own laws and justice. And when the white man came here they took them laws out. When you see people go wrong, our people had Elders that would heal that person and the white man way is punishing. They put him in jail. How did they come out? They come out a better criminal when they do come out of jail. And our way’s different, we heal people that go wrong.

Snuneymuxw Elder Bill Seward, Carey




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