First Nation claims island

A British Columbia First Nation is claiming title to a private island off Victoria that is currently owned by one of the world's richest men and is valued at more than $54 million.

James Island, the largest privately owned Island in B.C., is currently registered to J.I. Properties Inc., a company owned by telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw.

He bought it in 1994 for $19 million, but in documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court the Tsawout First Nation says it has never surrendered James Island or the title and rights guaranteed by a 1852 treaty with then Vancouver Island Gov. James Douglas.

The 1,600 member First Nation is seeking return of the island, which it says once included a village site, burial ground, vegetable fields, berry patches and access to hunting and fishing grounds.

Along with a request for damages, the First Nation also seeks an order for J.I. Properties to transfer James Island to the Tsawout and it calls on Canada and British Columbia to compensate the company for handing over the land.

None of the claims has been considered in court and J.I. Properties and the federal and provincial governments have not yet filed responses.

The B.C. Assessment Authority says James Island is currently assessed at $54,433,000 while Bob Ratliffe, vice-president of Craig McCaw's Eagle River Investments confirmed in 2001 that, along with a main home, there are six guest cabins, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a private air strip.

McCaw bought the island because he didn't want a planned spa and 200-home subdivision to go ahead, Ratliffe said.

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