Huu-ay-aht First Nations is proud to announce that Executive Councillor Tom Mexsis Happynook has been appointed Treaty Commissioner for British Columbia by the provincial government.
Happynook has been a member of Huu-ay-aht Executive Council since 2011 and served as the Huu-ay-aht Treaty Implementation Team Leader from June 2009 to March 2011. As an elected councillor, he was responsible for ensuring all the work that needs to be completed, following the effective date, is complete and there is a smooth transition into Huu-ay-aht self-government.
Happynook believes his extensive treaty experience was instrumental in landing him his new position. He spent 18 years working through the treaty process with his Nation and an additional six years on treaty implementation.
“I am thrilled to have been selected to be the B.C. Treaty Commissioner,” he says. “I have spent the last 24 years fully engaged in treaty negotiation and implementation. I think my experience over the past two decades is one of the major factors in them selecting me to fill this role.”
Happynook first found out the province was considering him for the position when Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad approached him at a Liberal Leadership dinner on Feb. 10. Happynook indicated that he would like to be considered, and within two weeks he notified that he was selected over two other candidates.
Until a new council is elected in June, Happynook will continue to attend important Executive Council meetings and decisions, but he will be taking an unpaid leave of absence from his elected position. He said it is important that he focus on his new duties, while still honouring the commitment he made.
“We would like to offer our sincere congratulations to Tom on his appointment as a B.C. Treaty Commissioner,” Elected Chief Councillor Jeff Cook says. “During the many years you served
Huu-ay-aht, you have proven to be a very valuable asset to our organization. Although we will miss you as you move on to a new venture, we wish you well.”
In his new role, Happynook will act as the keeper of the treaty process and will facilitate treaty negotiations. Treaty commissioners do not represent the principals that appointed them, but act independently. The First Nations Summit appoints two commissioners and the federal and provincial government each appoint one. The chief commissioner is appointed to a three-year term by agreement of the three parties, and the four part-time commissioners serve two-year terms.
Although the position is a big opportunity for Happynook, he said the decision was a difficult one.
“The biggest thing that helped me make the decision to take this is my desire to help bring about successful conclusions to treaties in B.C.,” he says. “It was a difficult decision to move on, but I think I can still add value to our Nation building efforts.”
Happynook looks forward to sitting with Tla’o’qui’aht’s Chief Treaty Negotiator Francis Frank, as he was one of the appointees from the First Nations Summit.
Happynook will continue to live in Parksville, but the position is based out of Vancouver.
Happynook is the Hereditary Whaling Chief (Ḥaw̓ił) of Huu-ay-aht First Nations, which is part of the Nuu-chah-hulth Tribal Group, located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. He has served as President of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribual Council, which is made up of 14 different Nations.
During the treaty process, Happynook was the Chief Treaty Negotiator for his Nation, until that process concluded in July 2007. He was also the Chairman for Uu-a-thluk, the Nuu-chah-nulth council of Ḥaw̓iiḥ (Hereditary Chiefs), and is Ḥaw̓ił (Hereditary Chief) for Huu-ay-aht First Nations.
He has been deeply involved in Huu-ay-aht’s efforts to become involved in the forestry industry and economy both nationally, internationally and closer to home. He has played a key role in fostering the cultural revival and rebirth of Huu-ay-aht, arising from the forest and fisheries restoration efforts of the Sarita River.
Happynook was the chairman of the Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Development Corporation and co-chair of the West Coast Aquatic Management Board.
A firefighter for 16 years, Happynook retired as a Deputy Platoon Chief (Captain) in 1998. He has been married to Katherine Ann Happynook since 1979. They have two adult sons, an adult daughter, two grandsons and two granddaughters.