Maa-nulth Nations gathered in Ucluelet for the second annual Government-to-Government Forum

The Maa-nulth First Nations and British Columbia Leaders Forum was created as a result of a commitment made when the treaty was implemented on April 1, 2011 to stand with the Nations as a partner on a new path under the treaty. Last year was the first meeting of the two levels of government, and this year was even more successful than the inaugural meeting. In attendance were leaders from the Maa-nulth Nations – Councillor Wilfred Cootes (Uchucklesaht), President Chuck McCarthy (Yuulu?il?ath?), Chief Anne Mack (Toquaht), Chief Robert J. Dennis Sr. (Huu-ay-aht), and Legislative Chief Kevin Jules and Hereditary Chief Francis Gillette (Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’) – and representative from the Provincial Government – Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, Finance Minister Carol James, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman, and Craig Sutherland, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

The discussion started with a traditional welcoming and prayer, followed by a welcome to the territory from Anne Mack. She said it’s encouraging to have so many ministers present around the table and that shows the province is taking their government-to-government meetings serious. Mack acknowledged the progress the province has made recently in adopting the UNDRIP legislation. Although this is a monumental act, the Maa-nulth nations are still dealing with several challenges since implementation of the treaty.

The biggest of these challenges is financial, Mack explained. She pointed out that the colonial mind is still alive and well and this means both parties at the table must work harder to educate front-line workers on how to eliminate this from their belief system.

“We acknowledge that there is lots of hard work ahead if us,” she said. “I look forward to working on this together.”

Scott Fraser also offered a welcoming. He used the Nuu-chah-nulth principle of Hišuk ma c̕awak, explaining that he believes everything is connected and one, and that by working together they will be stronger. He shared his believe that the government-to-government forums will continue to get better year after year.

Climate Change

Since Minister Heyman could not stay for the whole day, climate change began the official discussions of the day. He talked about the importance of including indigenous knowledge when the Province draws up climate change initiatives. He acknowledged that CleanBC could have consulted First Nations more in Phase One, but that they will learn from this and reach out more to the communities. He also stressed the importance of creating economic opportunities for First Nation communities.

Robert Dennis brought up how much removing First Nations people from the land has changed the ecosystem where they traditionally lived. The example he offered was that when the seal hunt stopped sea urchins became more plentiful, and now they are harming the kelp beds, which are important for overall health of the ocean. He said there are many more examples of where the balance was disrupted when First Nations left their land. He stressed the importance of returning the balance by bringing Indigenous People back to their land. Scott Fraser supported this idea stating that forestry and tourism could bring people home.

New Fiscal Relationship

Wilfred Cootes presented on the fiscal relationship. He said one big obstacle they must overcome is the collaborative Fiscal Financing Agreement. He indicated that during the negotiations in 2018/19 provincial negotiators repeatedly stated that BC was committed to renewing its fiscal relationship with Maa-nulth Nations. After lengthy negotiations, it is the belief of the Maa-nulth Nations that BC’s offer of status quo funding would equal 0.3 to 0.6% of federal funding for each year under the FFA. This offer was accepted under protest, but the Maa-nulth Nations are still waiting for BC to negotiate more appropriate funding.

Cootes said this is a defining moment in the relationship between Maa-nulth Nations and the Province. He asked on behalf of the other Nations that the Province:

  • Contribute to some of the cost associated with participating in the provincial collaborative fiscal financing process
  • They empower their team with a strong mandate to deliver on the work we are doing together
  • Create a realistic and clear timeline to complete the work.

He wrapped up by stating that it is the hope of the Maa-nulth Nations that the relationship they have with the province be repaired, because when First Nations succeeds everyone succeeds.

Fraser and Carol James were both supportive of this statement, adding that it’s not just about giving money but about creating opportunities to build a strong economy with benefits for all.

Roads

Kevin Jules explained to the ministers gathered that road access to the Treaty Settlement Land needs significant upgrades in order to allow the Nations to fully utilize the rights and benefits of the treaty. He pointed out that safety concerns mean that the discussion needs to be how the safety improvements will be made. It can no longer be about whether or not it can be done.

Given that the primary route to Maa-nulth lands are forest service roads, they are maintained with heavy industry in mind and are often unsafe for residents. Citizens and other people who travel the road deserve a safe, reliable way to get supplies and services, as well as offering a corridor that will open up their regions to tourism opportunities. Instead, the roads are prone to eroded corners and edges, flooding, washouts, and poor visibility.

The Nations asked that B.C. commit in writing the co-development of a work plan to:

  • Chip seal the Bamfield Road
  • Increase the reliability and safety of the Fair Harbour Road
  • Increase road safety including:
    • Funding to support consultation, engineering reporting, work plan development, and implementation of road improvements
    • Set timelines for the co-development work plan, funding, and completion of improvements
    • Feasibility study to consider alternate routes to the communities.

They also recommended creating written standards and criteria for road maintenance, increase the budget for maintenance and improvements, implement safety measures, and ensure all improvements take into consideration the wet conditions on the West Coast.

Minister Claire Trevena said they are aware of the issues raised and are not ignoring them. She said the ministry is interested in working on relationship building and possible partnerships with the Nations to help address the road concerns.

Groundwater

Maa-nulth natural resources consultant Ron Frank brought groundwater to the table, pointing out that the Maa-nulth Treaty makes provisions for addressing groundwater that requires BC to negotiate and attempt to reach agreement with Maa-nulth as the Province was regulating groundwater in February 2016. Despite this, the Province came to the table in 2018 unprepared to negotiate.

The Maa-nulth Nations are concerned because they are the most underfunded self-government in Canada, and yet they are expected to address groundwater on their own now. The Province has:

  • Shown little commitment to resolving this vital issue
  • Been unwilling to provide a mandate, an experienced negotiator, or a senior official to take the lead
  • Failed to adequately fund the acquisition of scientific and technical groundwater data that would facilitate or adequately fund the negotiation.

Therefore, Maa-nulth Nations are asking for BC to:

  • Establish that the resolution of groundwater issues is a critical policy objective in the reconciliation construct that guides provincial relations with FN and recognize that the Maa-nulth-BC table will be provide a template for future relations with other First Nations.
  • Find the person best qualified to successfully negotiate groundwater
  • Be prepared to make a reasonable financial commitment for scientific work and negotiations
  • Do the above in a timely fashion.

Sutherland said he is more than aware of the challenges facing the group, but together they can find money to meet treaty obligations. Fraser also reassured the Nations that he will advocate for more funding.

Implementation of the Treaty Wildlife Chapter and Wildlife Population Management

Frank pointed out that when it comes to wildlife, the treaty nations have many common struggles, and the key is to work collaboratively to find ways that everyone will benefit. It is essential that everyone be engaged when it comes to the importance of wildlife. He said the Maa-nulth Nations are doing what they need to be doing, and the Ministry needs to focus on the priorities that would support that work.

The report each member at the table received had a detailed list of 11 specific recommendations, but the key is that an increase in human, financial, and infrastructural resources is needed. After some discussion, the everyone agreed to work on the 11 recommendations and bring a report back to the next government-to-government forum in 2020 to see what progress has been made.

Closing

At the end of the meeting each representative was given a chance to offer closing statements. The common thread in all their comments was the desire to work together to ensure the best interest of the Maa-nulth Nations is the focus. Most people spoke of coming up with creative ways to make things work for everyone involved and the desire to continue to meet on a regular basis. Several people spoke of the importance of building relationships and the effectiveness of the Maa-nulth Treaty in negotiations.

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