COMOX, B.C. – K’ómoks First Nation has expressed their disappointment with what the band believes is a lack of consultation regarding the future of Mack Laing Nature Park.

The town’s current proposal before the court is to disassemble Mack Laing’s former home, ‘Shakesides’ and use the money from the Mack Laing Trust to construct a viewing site and platform in its place.

In a letter to Mayor Russ Arnott and Council, K’ómoks First Nation chief Nicole Rempel said it was “with disappointment” that she read a media report, that this proposal and future improvements to the Mack Laing Park has already been for public consultation on March 27, and decided upon without prior consultation with KFN.

Rempel said in the letter that KFN is requesting that the Town of Comox consult with Chief and Council prior to any further designs, plans or any work is commenced within the Mack Laing Park and the Shakeside Viewpoint.

Arnott addressed the letter during the media question period portion of Wednesday’s regular council meeting.

“They (KFN) are aware of the issue and I advised them that once we get the drawings back… we’ll present (them) to Chief (Rempel) and Council,” Arnott said. “One of the things that I did highlight was that we are not disrupting any land there. That house that would be there, that foundation would be the foundation for the platform. So we’re not digging anything, we’re very mindful of the sensitivities of that area, the midden that the house is built on, and our footprint is going to be very minimal in that area.”

Dating back decades, the Mack Laing Trust has been a divisive issue in the town.

In 1973, Laing deeded his property and home to the Town of Comox.

In 1982, Laing also gave, in trust, the residual cash from his estate to the town. The trust fund currently sits at $256,000.

Since 1983, the town has operated the nature park, adding trails and interpretive signs to foster the public’s appreciation of nature.

The town rented out Shakesides until June 2014. And between 1982 and 2000, the town spent some of the trust fund to maintain ‘Shakesides,’ improve the park, and memorialize Laing.

Council has recently decided to move forward the town’s court application to modify the trust applicable to the money.

However, in her letter, Rempel noted that, “If necessary an extension on the three months abeyance with the Attorney General’s office might be necessary, until meaningful consultation has taken place.”

She also said in the letter that K’ómoks First Nation had previously written to former Mayor Paul Ives on the importance of this site and area is to the KFN and that there is a large shell midden surrounding Comox Harbour has been well-known since at least 1907, and speaks to over two millennia of Aboriginal use and occupation here.

“Section 13 of the HCA protects cultural heritage sites such as DkSf 4 (the site),” she adds in the letter.

“The large shell midden here is of significant cultural importance to KFN. It is the resting place for many KFN ancestors. This significance is well-recognized: ‘the site is therefore of cultural importance to the K’ómoks, respect for this culture and presence that their input be secured for any project affecting this site’ (Mack Laing House Report 2013:10), and presumably recognized by the Town of Comox.”

We emphasize that protection of archaeological sites in KFN territory is a moral and spiritual obligation of the KFN people, and is the law in British Columbia.

According to Rempel’s letter, Canada has adopted the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and Article 11 therein specifies that: “Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts and designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”

“The City of Vancouver has adopted UNDRIP and is working proactively with local First Nations to properly manage impacts to archaeological sites there,” she added in the letter.

“It is KFN’s perspective that all Local Governments should follow these examples, and take the management and preservation of archaeological sites much more seriously.”

Arnott also responded with a letter to KFN, dated April 9, which noted that the issue of the viewing platform has been underway for a number of years, now, with the current council voting to continue with the court proceedings to modify the trust, to allow the platform, albeit with some modifications.

In the letter, he assured Chief Rempel and council that it was the desire of this council and the previous council to ensure the sensitivity of the area is acknowledged and protected to ensure the least amount of disruption to the lands as possible.

“Council’s desire is to not only celebrate Mack Laing but also the lands that hold significant cultural importance to KFN,” Arnott said in the letter. “Collaboration with KFN is important to us as we strive to reflect the importance in this area.”