Native American Tribes Move to Make Real Estate a Force for Renewal

Set for groundbreaking this year, the four-million-square-foot village called Senakw will be constructed “on land that was illegally confiscated from my ancestors,” said Khelsilem, a spokesman and councilor for the Squamish, which in 2003 reacquired 10.48 acres of its ancestral lands in the area.

The Squamish Nation has worked with a local developer to design and secure financing for the project, which will include 12 office and residential towers with 6,000 market-rate apartments, as well as retail space.

“The goal is to create value that is going to benefit our people,” Khelsilem said. The Squamish aim to be “long-term leaders in the region,” he said, using knowledge acquired on the Senakw project “to develop the expertise and capacity to do projects at this scale elsewhere.”

Separately, MST Development, a partnership among three First Nations formed in 2016, has acquired five parcels of land in the Vancouver area totaling around 19 million square feet, said David Negrin, MST’s chief executive and a former president of the region’s Urban Development Institute. The Nations, he said, are poised to become “the largest developers in British Columbia if not Canada.”

In the United States, government policies have divided tribal lands, Ms. Sjoberg said, adding, “It’s very difficult for tribes to develop a general plan when lands are not consolidated or assembled into parcels.”

The appointment of Deb Haaland, secretary of the Department of Interior and the first Native American cabinet secretary, is a reason for hope in the tribal community, Ms. Sjoberg said. “There is cautious optimism and a sense of opportunity in developing its land for community and economic development purposes,” she said.

Ms. Haaland has delegated Bureau of Indian Affairs regional offices to help fast-track decisions for tribes that have submitted applications to reacquire lands in or near their reservations, she said.