Huu-ay-aht and Province mark the beginning of a new path together with Bamfield Main Road Surfacing Project groundbreaking

Six gold shovels broke the ground today in the territory of Huu-ay-aht First Nations marking the beginning of the physical work for the Bamfield Main Road Surfacing Project.

The project will include significant safety improvements and chipsealing of the 76-kilometre vital link between Bamfield and Port Alberni. It was announced in Victoria in September 2020 and outlined a partnership between the Province of British Columbia, contributing $25.7 million, and Huu-ay-aht First Nations, covering the remaining $5 million.

“Today is an exciting day for our Nation – one we have been working towards for decades,” explained Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “We are standing today in an area where our people have lived for centuries, along the Sarita River. It is an important day because we are finally able to use the resources in the best way for our people. When we can say that is always happening, we will have reached true reconciliation.”

He acknowledged Premier John Horgan and the Provincial government for their commitment to this project. He also noted how helpful MP Gord Johns and former MLA Scott Fraser were in making today a reality, as well as the constant support from MLA Josie Osborne and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District Director Bob Beckett. Each were present at the event with the exception of the Premier and Fraser, who sent their regrets.

“The only way to achieve the change we want to see for our Nation is through creating an action plan,” he said. “That is what the Premier did when he travelled to our community almost two years ago. Because of that, we are partnering in a project that will create a safe, reliable road for travellers.”

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is making history in British Columbia as the first Indigenous community to lead a road infrastructure project of this size.

“Public safety is at the heart of community well-being,” said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “We partnered with Huu-ay-aht First Nations to invest in upgrades to critical infrastructure in the area, and I applaud the Huu-ay-aht leadership for their steadfast determination to work towards vital road improvements in their territory that will benefit their community and visitors for years to come.”

The groundbreaking took place at the gravel pit that Huu-ay-aht is developing for the project through HGB Gravel LP. This is the first physical work to take place in the project. When completed, Blenheim Pit will supply the gravel needed for the surfacing of the road. The pit is in Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territory, approximately 30 minutes from its village of Anacla, close to Bamfield on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Other strong supporters of the project were also in attendance, including Tseshaht Chief Councillor Waamiiš (Ken Watts), Shannon Janzen from Western Forest Products, and Domenico Lannidinardo from Mosaic. They all spoke of the importance of working together and that this is how true reconciliation can be accomplished.

“It is exciting to see this project moving forward. In 2011 when we signed the Maa-nulth Treaty, we knew it would not work unless we work together as a tribe and build partnerships with others. The partnership we have with the province is an example of true reconciliation,” explained Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters). “We have lost too many lives on this essential link to our community. As a nation, we must continue to move forward together with our Ancient Spirit and Modern Minds. Most importantly, we must do it right and honour our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking Care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one) and the teachings of our ancestors.”

The Bamfield Main Road Surfacing Project is a partnership between Huu-ay-aht First Nations ($5 million) and the Province of British Columbia ($25.7 million).

“The work today at the Blenheim gravel pit is the first step into a better and safer future in the wake of 2019 tragedy,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs and MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim. “A sincere thank you to Huu-ay-aht First Nations for allowing me to witness this initial important work and I look forward to walking side by side with their community as we build a strong recovery from COVID-19.” 

Work on the Bamfield Main Road Surfacing Project began earlier this spring when crews carried out a field survey of the 76-kilometre road, culverts, bridges, legal property boundaries, waterline at Fredrick Lake, water courses, and related infrastructure completed. This data is utilized for 3D modeling by the road and drainage design team. An environmental study and road drainage and design has also been completed.

The geotechnical investigation has also been carried. All the data has been processed and the geotechnical team is finalizing the design requirements to achieve the best roadbed construction for the seal coat application to ensure the roadbed is strong, as this determines how long the seal coat will last.

Work began in October of 2020 by HGB Gravel LP to identify potential gravel sources along the route. Since then, numerous pits have been identified and investigated for their potential. Currently numerous pits are gaining permits for further investigation. The Blenheim Pit is first of the pits to be developed. The gravel production will carry on through the winter to ensure the required quantities for the road are available for the contracts.

The road will be constructed in three contract sections of approximately 25 kilometers each. The contracts will be tendered in January 2022 with work to begin in April 2022 and completed by mid-September. These contracts will carry out the gravel placement, compaction, drainage requirements, and signage. The construction will also raise the road in numerous locations to avoid future flooding issues. New concrete box culverts are to be placed near Fredrick Lake to allow the Western Toad population free movement across the road.

One seal coat contract covering the complete 76.6 km will be tendered in March 2022. The seal coating is expected to be completed by the end of September that allows for weather and other delays. This contract will apply two layers of seal coat and place required barriers. In March 2023, a paving contract will be tendered, this contract will pave the required sections over the previously laid seal coat. The pavement is to be placed on all steep hills, major intersections, and bridge approaches. Along with the pavement, additional barrier sections will be placed to increase the safety in specific locations.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations releases evaluation of Social Services Project three years after launch

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is pleased to release an independent evaluation of the Social Services Project, launched in 2017, that shows great successes have been achieved in the first three years of the project.

Huu-ay-aht contracted an independent party to conduct an evaluation of the project to determine the effectiveness of the project. The goal in 2016, when the Social Services Panel began its work, was to ensure that all Huu-ay-aht children grow up safe, healthy, and connected to their Huu-ay-aht home, culture, and values.

The report will serve as a benchmark against which future evaluations will be measured. This represents the first evaluation of Huu-ay-aht’s Social Services Project since the 30 recommendations were finalized in 2017.

“The results of this evaluation prove that there is a way forward. Huu-ay-aht’s vision is coming to fruition through ensuring their vision is acted upon with expertise, planning, and frontline workers,” said Kim Baird, Social Services Panel member and advisor. “Of course, another key ingredient for success has been funding assistance from government partners. The reconciliation of Huu-ay-aht families is integral to the future sustainability of Huu-ay-aht First Nations.”

Feedback came from 169 Huu-ay-aht citizens, Community Services and Child and Family Wellness team members, directors for Huu-ay-aht’s Community Services and Child and Family Wellness department, the acting executive director, and members of Executive Council and Social Services Task Force. The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on the evaluation process, as in-person engagement was not possible and online surveys were conducted instead. 

“It is important that we hear what is important to our people and those who are helping to raise our children,” explained Huu-ay-aht Councillor Edward R. Johnson, adding how thankful he is to the citizens who participated. “We are pleased to have heard from so many people and this will help us shape the program moving forward to ensure we are meeting the needs of the community so we can achieve our goal of bringing our people home and keeping our children safe and connected to their nation.”

As a result of the survey, 26 areas of focus were identified. Highlights include:

  • Securing Oomiiqsu (Mother Centre) funding
  • Affordable housing
  • Equipping staff with the tools they need to do their job in a balanced, healthy way
  • Focus on culture, language, and traditional foods
  • Communication
  • Ensuring all demographics (youth to elders) are being served
  • Focus on addressing violence, physical health, mental and emotional health, and the tools needed to ensure citizens can lead a healthy lifestyle   
  • Increase inclusivity – elders, LGBTQ+, foster parents
  • Secure Bill C-92 funding
  • Secure wraparound funding for services
  • Designate an alternate dispute resolution body

“This interim assessment is an important step in implementing the Huu-ay-aht vision for bringing and keeping children in the fold of family and community love, care, and culture.” Maegen Giltrow, Social Services Panel member and legal counsel. “It is very rewarding to see that 64 per cent of Huu-ay-aht citizens who responded said they felt their family’s safety had seen some or great improvement from the Huu-ay-aht Social Services Project over the previous year. But the assessment is also an important guide to the substantial work that lies ahead.”

Moving forward, the results of this evaluation will guide the program and service delivery to help promote mental health and emotional well-being for Huu-ay-aht citizens of all ages, gender, and sexual orientation. The team will prioritize strengthening families by ensuring all additional parenting and caregiving support is available through Oomiiqsu and other programs and services.

“It is encouraging to see the results of this evaluation as it shows we are on the right track,” explained Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters). “We have to continue to move forward with our Ancient Spirit and Modern Minds, while honouring our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking Care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one).

For a copy of the report, please go to this link.

Community gathers to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with message of togetherness and hope for the future

On September 30, 2021, Huu-ay-aht First Nations joined hundreds of other nations across Canada to mark the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Together with the community of Bamfield and special guests, the Nation unveiled a totem that will soon be raised in Bamfield. Close to 150 people dressed in orange gathered to hear people share their stories, honour the survivors of residential schools and their families, and share language, culture, and a meal.

Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin welcomed everyone and spoke on the significance of the day, pointing out that he father always told him it was important that the two communities work together.

“I am proud that we are one community,” he said.

He said the totem is significant as it will stand as a symbol of strength, like the old-growth tree it came from once did in the forest.

“This will unite us and make us stronger,” he said.

Previously known as Orange Shirt Day, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to the calls for acting from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. The report outlined 94 calls to action. Creating a federal statutory day of commemoration was Call to Action 80. According to the federal government, “the day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. reminded the sea of orange how far we have come. He said governments put in place policy that tried to eliminate First Nations in the form of the Indian Act. The goal was to “take the Indian out of the child” through the residential school system.

“We were removed from our home, our land, our culture and language, and our resources. Now they call it cultural genocide,” he explained. “They tried for 13 years to take the Indian out of me, but I’m proud to say they failed.”

He said the pole represents growth for Huu-ay-aht First Nations and the steps the Nation must take to get where they want to be. He said the Nation is at the bottom of the pole right now but climbing.

“We have a long way to go from where we were,” he said. “We are one community, and we can make it back there together.”

ACRD Director for the area Bob Beckett said Thursday was a day to reflect on the past and learn more about it and the journey forward. He said we must consider how we will move forward. It is important to acknowledge the atrocities that happened in the past and find a way to learn and grow. He closed by saying the pole raising speaks to the amazing leadership of Huu-ay-aht First Nations and their neighbours in Bamfield and the strength they must have to keep growing together.

Olivia Peters (Huupaalthus – daughter of the moon), daughter of Huu-ay-aht’s Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin and Irene Peters, showed great strength as she addressed the large crowd.

“This is the first step in trying to bridge the gap between First Nations people and Canadians – to tell the truth and to be open and learn, educate, and listen to the stories of what happened to the First Nations people that have resided in this country since time immemorial,” she said. “Not only to hear the truths, but to put solutions and actions in place to be part of the change.”  

She said it is time to remove the stereotype of who Indian people are and that we all have a story to tell and to work together on reconciliation.

“Even though I am a second generation, it still really hurts to think about many of the people in our tribe who have gone through these schools and suffered pain,” she said. “It really hurts to think of the young children who were ripped out of their homes, to bring them to these schools. So have openness and compassion and kindness in your heart as we all move forward to reconciliation, as we are all one – Hišuk ma c̕awak.”

To recognize and honour the survivors of residential schools, Huu-ay-aht First Nations blanketed the ones in attendance. Members of their family came forward to participate in the moving. The crowd cheered for them, showing their support and love.

Wišqii asked for prayers for the survivors as well as the ones who did not make it home. He said, “we are all survivors in one way or another.” He said together “our people will help with the healing process and lead the way.”

Brian Butler from the United Steelworkers and Dallyn Willis from Western Forest Products also spoke at the event. Butler said USW believes in meaningful reconciliation, and that he was honoured to attend the important event and recognize the atrocities suffered by so many. These must not be forgotten, he said, and we must move forward promoting empathy and change, and travel an honourable path in the future. Willis said the work he has done with Huu-ay-aht First Nations is the most rewarding part of his career, and he was honoured to attend and participate in such an important day. He said reconciliation is something we must do every day to build a path together.

Wišqii reminded the crowd gathered that Huu-ay-aht is a resilient nation and it is getting stronger every day.

“We will not only survive – we will thrive,” he said. “The next story is yet to be written.”

Remembering those lost on the Bamfield Road While Moving Forward with Safety Improvements

September 13 marks the two-year anniversary of the tragic accident that claimed the lives of two University of Victoria (UVIC) students. John Geerdes and Emma Machado were travelling the Bamfield road en route to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre as part of a field trip through UVIC when the bus they were on slid down the embankment which led to their death. This tragedy has resulted in UVIC creating an independent review of the incident whose report was released in July. This independent review and report issued several recommendations, which UVIC has ultimately adopted and implemented.

Tragedies on the Bamfield road are something that has been all too familiar to Huu-ay-aht, whose homelands are accessible only through utilizing the road. Countless citizens who live in Anacla or frequent the road have a story to tell that highlights the challenges drivers of the road face, such as dust, potholes, washouts, and narrow sections of road.

In September 2020, the Province of B.C. and Huu-ay-aht First Nations announced that decades of Huu-ay-aht work was finally paying off. Together the province and the Nation are moving forward with safety improvements on this vital stretch of road.

“The lives lost on this road is just one reason Huu-ay-aht has dedicated countless hours over decades to upgrade the Bamfield road,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis. “I will never forget the September night when I arrived on the scene of the bus crash. Huu-ay-aht has never wavered from our belief that we need to upgrade the road to keep people safe. I am proud that this project is finally underway, and I hope it will mean no more lives are lost on the Bamfield road.”

As work begins on the upgrades, the potholes will become a thing of the past, but the lives the road has claimed will never be forgotten.

“By partnering with us on this project, the Province honours our elders and the Nation’s sacred principles of ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of….), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One) with this project,” explains Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Hereditary Chief Derek Peters). “My family suffered a great loss when Tayii Ḥaw̓ił Art Peters, my grandfather, was killed on the Bamfield road. The upgrades will be a legacy to anyone who has died on the road. By working together, we will ensure this vital link is safe for generations to come.”

The initiative led by Huu-ay-aht First Nations and supported by important stakeholders in the forest industry, as well as the Provincial and Federal Governments, is currently underway. The Bamfield road will soon feature significant safety upgrades. The Bamfield Main Road Surfacing Project will see the entirety of the Bamfield Main Road chip sealed and widened in important sections, as well as paving of problem sections along the road. As of September 2021, a field survey has been conducted for 76 kilometers of the road. This data has been translated into a 3D model and will be utilized for the road and drainage design team. Relevant environmental experts have been engaged to ensure that the road improvements do not significantly impact existing environments and wildlife in the area.