Vancouver admits: aboriginal people still own the land

Canada’s third-largest city, Vancouver, has formally acknowledged that aboriginal peoples still own the land its skyscrapers are built on.

The unprecedented move came last week when the city’s planning, transportation and environment committee unanimously passed a motion stating that "the modern city of Vancouver was founded on the traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and that these territories were never ceded through treaty, war or surrender."

The motion, passed 25 June, invited representatives from the nations to "work with the Mayor to develop appropriate protocols for the City of Vancouver to use in conducting City business that respect the traditions of welcome, blessing, and acknowledgement of the territory."

Speaking to Canadian media, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson said the move was largely symbolic, but an "important gesture". He added that it does not affect land ownership because land titles are the jurisdiction of the provincial and federal governments.

Vancouver got its name from the British explorer George Vancouver, who sailed into its harbour in 1792. White settlers came in numbers during the gold rush of the 1850s, and the city was incorporated in 1886. But archaeological records indicate the presence of aboriginal people in the area as long as 10,000 years ago.

The day after the motion passed in Vancouver, Canada’s Supreme Court granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in the province of British Columbia to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. It was the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land.

A year ago Mayor Robertson declared a "Year of Reconciliation" in a bid to boost relations with aboriginal people of Vancouver.

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