Not every member of the Kwantlen First Nation is excited to add lands controlled by the Eric Woodward Foundation to the KFN’s reserve lands.
Fern Gabriel, a member of the band’s land advisory council, said the proposal to acquire the land for the KFN reserve wasn’t brought to the group before the press release from the Kwantlen’s band council and its business arm, seyem, was sent out on March 5.
“It was brought to everybody after the press release… was brought out,” said Gabriel.
However, the head of seyem, Brenda Knights, was excited to be acquiring new land for the KFN’s reserve for the first time in generations.
“We’ve never had it added,” she said.
In the past, the KFN has lost land to expropriation several times, including for the road and ferry dock for the defunct Albion Ferry. That land was returned after the ferry closed down, but the KFN is still battling to get the provincial government to tear down the derelict dock, which has become a magnet for vandals.
Knights said the new lands in the commercial core of Fort Langley could be a revenue generator for the Kwantlen for generations to come.
As with other lands on both sides of the river, they are considered part of the Kwantlen people’s ancestral territory.
Before the land can be added to the reserve, there will be a referendum of the Kwantlen people.
“I’m not going to predict what my people will do or say,” she said.
Gabriel said a factor in the acquisition is Woodward himself.
“He’s not a very popular person in the community, non-indigenous and indigenous,” said Gabriel.
Woodward, who has been a Township councillor since 2018, has made a number of controversial decisions around his downtown commercial properties in the past.
A number of them have been boarded up for more than a year, since Woodward withdrew development proposals that were not making headway with Township staff.
He posted – and later removed – copies of public health notices on several buildings that said they were infested with vermin. Since then, he has placed historic photos on the boarded up windows of the buildings.
Woodward was hoping to build on two primary sites, one on each side of Glover Road, and those are the sites he is transferring to Kwantlen First Nation ownership.
He has also been involved in a legal dispute with Kwantlen artist Brandon Gabriel, who sued Woodward for defamation last year.
Following Gabriel’s caustic comments towards Woodward regarding property development, on Facebook, a mural created by Gabriel on one of Woodward’s properties was painted over.
Fern Gabriel is Brandon Gabriel’s aunt, and both are also related to Chief Marilyn Gabriel.
Woodward had no comment on the issue of when the land transfer was presented to the KFN land advisory council.
The process to add land to a reserve can take as long as three to five years, but both Knights and Woodward have said they hope it can be done faster.
Knights said there would need to be consultation with Langley Township, as well as with other First Nations that have overlapping territory with the Kwantlen, but Knights said they have a good relationship with their neighbours.
Woodward directed queries about the reaction to the land deal to KFN’s business arm, seyem.
seyem did not respond to repeated requests for comment.