Thursday, July 05, 2007

The battle for a sacred golf course

It's almost comical, like something out of a movie, the way a golf course in a posh Vancouver neighbourhood has become a flashpoint in First Nations' treaty efforts.
The province is in secretive talks about turning the University Golf Club over to the Musqueam band, which has outstanding claims over a lot of expensive Lower Mainland real estate.
The neighbours and golfers, in an area where $1 million gets you a starter home, are shocked and outraged.
One observed that some golfers had so loved the course that they had their ashes scattered over the fairways.
If the Musqueam developed the land, it would be like desecrating a burial site, he said, adding that First Nations don't like it when someone digs up the bones of their ancestors to clear the way for some condos or a new road.
Can't you see that in a movie, the actor — I’m thinking Gene Hackman, for some reason — making his case for the sacred spiritual nature of the course, as a group dressed in black golf clothes scatters someone's ashes beside the eighth tee?
The golf course - open to the public, with rates of $70 for a weekend round - has been a point of contention for years.
The Musqueam and other urban First Nations involved in treaty talks have a problem. The settlement model is based on compensation in land and cash.
But the federal and provincial governments have little land available to hand over in urban areas. First Nations get edgy when any of it is transferred out of their hands.
The Campbell government did exactly that with the University Golf Club in 2003. Despite the Musqueam's objections, and knowing the band was eying it as part of any future settlement, the province sold the course to the University of B.C. for $11 million.
It looked bad. And in 2005 the B.C. Court of Appeal said it was bad. The government had an obligation to consult before selling the land, the court ruled. It gave the province and Musqueam two years to negotiate a settlement. It's not hard to understand why people who golf on the beautiful course or use it for quiet walks would be disappointed it ends up as a housing development. (The Musqueam have said if they get ownership, the land will remain a golf course until 2033.)
But their arguments are so strange as to be alarming. The course does offer a lovely green space. But the area already has an extraordinary amount of parkland, thanks to the lovely UBC campus. (And some of those complaining live in houses on land carved from that space for development.)
The golf-course defenders - ignoring the fact that the Musqueam have a legal say in all this - also say the provincial government should just offer the band cash in return for giving up their claim to the golf course. One opponent fighting any transfer is Martin Zlotnik, a Gordon Campbell backer and big-time Liberal fundraiser. He says the Liberals could just "write a cheque" to cover the cost. "The government prints money, don't forget that," he said in a radio interview.
But, as Campbell likely reminded, him the government doesn't print money; it collects from people and companies.
And the land is worth something over $300 million if it’s developed. The idea that someone in Trail or Prince George should pay higher taxes to preserve a golf course for a largely affluent group in a ritzy Vancouver neighbourhood is just bizarre.
The other interesting question this affair raises is the depth of urban residents' commitment to treaties. Polls generally found them supportive when the land likely to be transferred was far away. This group isn't so keen now the issue is closer to home. (Rural residents have so far accepted the need to transfer land as part of treaty settlements.)
Still, it would make an awfully good movie.
Footnote: The golf course is in Campbell's own riding and he's been criticized by constituents, especially for secrecy around the land negotiations (though that's normal in these kinds of talks). The whole affair shows how much Campbell's approach to First Nations has changed in four years. In 2003, he ignored the Musqueam's claims and pretty much gave the land away; now, he's looking to ensure the band gets the property.


Anonymous said...

The Musqueam band is letting the province off easy by just asking for the golf course. Imagine the outcry if the Musqueam band asked for the UBC endowment lands.

UBC is a 'creature' of the province and the endowment lands can be given to the Musqueam band with a stroke of gordo's pen.

Take a look at all that forest west of Camosun... Mmm... Land claims... Mmm.

Anonymous said...

Now what about the Jericho lands the Feds are holding? They closed Chilliwack rather than the military base and lands there. It was First Nations land before WWII.

Anonymous said...

Asking for and getting isn't always the same. Land to be handed over is supposed to be "willing seller, willing buyer" This particular band has lot of grievances but this should be treaty stuff. And if its a open process, the publci should be able to sit in just like at the treaty negotiations sessions. I couldn't guess which side of this argument I could support as I, and most everyone else havn't a clue as to wahts going on. The date the band mentions I believe is the same date that was in some court document of a few years back dl

Robert Sim said...

I hear you. The course has an emotional resonance for Point Grey lifers who grew up in the area and went to UBC, but the main issue here is money- that land is worth an awful lot with a new crop of condos on it, and the development would hurt property values in the near neighbourhood- the UEL and western Pt Grey.

My $0.02: The future of the UBC golf course