Huu-ay-aht First Nations received notice from the Federal Government that loan payments related to the treaty negotiation in the amount of $5.4 million will be forgiven effective as of March 31, 2020. The Federal Government will be returning nearly five million in cash to Huu-ay-aht First Nation over the next five years, and the federal government has also forgiven the half million debt outstanding.
Former B.C. Treaty Commissioner and Huu-ay-aht Ḥaw̓iiḥ Tom Happynook is please that after so many years of British Columbian First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the B.C. Treaty Commission pushing for treaty loan forgiveness, the Federal Government has finally agreed to reimburse treaty loans.
“It is with sincere appreciation that Huu-ay-aht First Nations applaud Canada for correcting a long-time policy of making First Nations pay for their new relationship with British Columbia and Canada. This new federal approach to treaty negotiations in B.C. is a welcome policy change and can in its simplicity create a much better environment to negotiate a Modern-Day Comprehensive Treaty,” Happynook explained. “As a former B.C. Treaty Commissioner, I am pleased that our hard work in Ottawa transformed the face of treaty negotiations in British Columbia. I am hopeful that other B.C. First Nations who are not in the B.C. treaty process will see this as a much better bridge to negotiating a new relationship with B.C. and Canada with no costs incurred.”
Huu-ay-aht, along with the other Maa-nulth First Nations, spent millions of dollars to negotiate their final agreement in the treaty. At that time, the policy was that Indigenous groups would be required to take on a loan to negotiate their treaty. Although the Nation did receive compensation as part of the treaty package, Huu-ay-aht was expected to repay Canada for the cost of negotiations.
“It has taken a lot of years and dedication to get to this day, but I am so glad to hear that the Federal Government is going to do the right thing and repay these funds,” explained Huu-ay-aht’s Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “It is reassuring to see, even during the difficult time COVID-19 has created, that the Government of Canada is still committed to economic reconciliation efforts with First Nations communities.”
In the 2018 budget, Canada announced it would no longer require Indigenous groups to repay these loans to fund comprehensive claims negotiations and moved to a grant-based system that did not require repayment. Following extensive negotiations, the 2019 budget included a promise to forgive all outstanding comprehensive claim negotiation loans and repay the self-governing Indigenous governments that have already repaid the loans.
Huu-ay-aht made regular payments and was almost finished repaying its loan when the negotiations began. At that time, the Nation ceased payments, confident it would qualify for repayment. The Federal Government has now committed to repaying Huu-ah-aht a total of $4,916,016.00. These funds are to be repaid in five equal installments over the next five years, with the first payment coming this fiscal year.
A letter to the Nation from Honourable Carolyn Bennett states, “Canada continues to be committed to advancing reconciliation and recognizing Indigenous rights. I hope that the forgiveness of this debt demonstrates this commitment in a concrete way and will enhance financial stability and enable your community to improve access to funding mechanisms that may not have been otherwise available due to the outstanding liability.”
In the Budget 2018 document it states switching to a grant system is intended to allow Indigenous communities to invest in their priorities like governance, infrastructure, and economic development, that will increase the health and well-being for all community members. The funds should also allow Indigenous communities and governments to use their resources to strengthen their communities and improve the quality of life for its members.
Huu-ay-aht is committed to following these guidelines to ensure the Nation benefits from the funds they will receive over the next five years.
Note: Imagine is from the signing of the Maa-nulth Treaty.