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Songhees tighten control of Discovery Island

Discovery Island is closed to the public because of a wolf spotted roaming the land, but the Songhees First Nation says it’s not open to the public at any time.

“One-third of Discovery Island and all of the Chatham Islands are Indian Reserve,” said Songhees bylaw officer Trevor Absolon. “A lot of people are totally unaware of that.”

The islands are not disputed territories, but established Indian Reserves that have been home to the Songhees First Nation for thousands of years, and a place where band members lived until the late 1940s.

“You have to forgive people to a degree because there’s not a lot of information out there. People and families have been going out there for decades, but now the Songhees are self-governing and have their own land code,” Absolon said.

The islands are marked with “no trespassing” signs, but Absolon said that doesn’t stop partiers or tour companies from using the islands.

“There’s a high risk to a beautiful, delicate ecosystem. If one fire gets out of control it will all be lost.”

The Songhees Nation is stepping up patrols to demonstrate its jurisdictional control and ownership of the islands. Signage at Cattle Point and Oak Bay Marina are part of a public awareness campaign. “Because people have been going there for so long we want to give them some warning,” said Absolon.

The First Nation will begin patrolling the islands, with the help of RCMP South Island Marine Section, by boat and on foot to combat the increasing amount of garbage that is left on the islands by trespassers. Violators could face up to a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail, or both if caught trespassing on Songhees land.

“Once things are under control we will start some kind of a permit system,” said Absolon. “If people go out there (in the future) they should pick up their garbage and respect the (Songhees) sovereignty. It’s about educating people and awareness.”

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