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Musqueam leader who urged city to build on Garden City lands mourned
A former Musqueam Indian Band chief who clashed with Richmond City Hall after a development deal for the Garden City lands fell apart, will be remembered today at a funeral.
Ernest Campbell died Saturday from complications of diabetes. He was 72.
Campbell served as Musqueam's chief for over 20 years, retiring at the end of 2012, according to a statement from the band.
"Musqueam Indian Band mourns the loss of a great leader whose strong voice and leadership ensured that the Musqueam people’s issues were front and centre in Vancouver and British Columbia and on the national level. He led with dignity and strength and served as a powerful voice for Musqueam."
During his time as chief, Campbell had many dealings with City of Richmond officials over the Garden City lands. Campbell worked out an agreement with the city and Canada Lands Company to build housing on a portion of the land. But after two failed attempts to remove the parcel from the Agricultural Land Reserve, the deal fell apart.
Years earlier, Richmond anticipated the federal government would gift the lands to the city, but the Musqueam sought an injunction to prevent the transfer.
City officials continued their drive to acquire the lands and on March 31, 2010 completed the purchase of the lands, paying $29.6 million each to the band and Canada Lands Company.
But it was a sour deal for Campbell, who along with other band members, sued the city in an effort to reverse the sale and honour the original agreement to develop the land.
That lawsuit has been idle since 2010 and is still unresolved.
During the 2008 marathon public hearing on the band's original development deal with Richmond, Campbell urged Richmond council to accept it and push to strip the Garden City lands of its farmland protection.
"People have to understand and take it from a First Nations' perspective, of a territory we have, of the lands that have been taken away from us, of the social, economic problems we have in our communities. I don't understand why anybody around this table would disagree with that."
At the time, Campbell—the band's longtime spokesperson—repeatedly stated Musqueam has "been here for 9,000 years and we're not going anywhere."
“We’re rich in history, we’re rich in culture, we practise it today. Our languages are coming back, we have our artists, we’re surviving. This agreement, if successful, will only enhance this.”
Despite his failed attempts to secure a portion of the Garden City lands, Campbell negotiated two significant deals with senior governments in 2008. An agreement with Victoria gave the band $250 million in public land and cash—including the River Rock Casino Resort property in 2040. With the federal government, Campbell signed a deal that ensured the Musqueam would share in the benefits of hosting the 2010 Winter Games.
At a city council meeting Monday, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie acknowledged Campbell's passing, saying the city had extensive dealings with the Musqueam "in relation to the Olympic project."
"I think it’s clear that Ernie Campbell was a very strong leader. He was a great advocate for his people and our city council send our condolences to his family and to the entire Musqueam First Nation at this time of great loss."
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson called Campbell "a thoughtful, determined leader who helped build bridges and foster greater understanding between all cultures."
"I had great respect for how he conducted himself and always enjoyed our conversations. My deep condolences go out to his family, his friends and the Musqueam people," he said in a statement.
Premier Christy Clark also issued a statement, saying the province has lost "one of its foremost First Nations leaders."
"Chief Campbell was a tireless advocate and powerful voice that brought British Columbians together, always reminding us of what we should aspire to be as a society."
Musqueam leaders organized a prayer service for Campbell Tuesday at the Musqueam Community Centre in Vancouver. A funeral service is scheduled for today (Wednesday) at 9:30 a.m. at the centre.