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.

Premier outlines a path for Bamfield Road upgrades

Premier John Horgan lived up to a promise made in September and travelled the Bamfield Main road to Anacla on Thursday to discuss the province’s report and future upgrades. Along the way, he stopped at the crash site to pay his respects to the two students who lost their lives along this highway almost two months ago.

Horgan said he was pleased to see all of the stakeholders at the table, including Western Forest Products, Mosaic, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, Bamfield director for Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District Bob Beckett, and MLA Scott Fraser.   

“Together we have the tools we need to make significant upgrades to the road. We have met in a respectful way, and it is clear we are all committed to take the necessary steps to reach our Nation’s top goal of chip sealing the Bamfield road,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “By visiting our community, the Premier has a better understanding of how important it is to ensure this vital link is safe for all who travel the road.”

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is pleased that the Premier took the time to travel to the Nation’s main village and is optimistic it will lead to significant upgrades to the road. The Premier directed the representatives from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure present at the meeting to form an action group with Huu-ay-aht and other key stakeholders to create a plan to upgrade the road.

Chief Dennis says the engineering report on the road carried out by the province does not dispute that there is an urgent need for upgrades, but focuses on what approach to take. He says this offers him hope that the Province and Huu-ay-aht can find a timely, creative solution that works for everyone.

Huu-ay-aht has been working diligently for decades to chipseal the Bamfield road, but the fatal bus crash that claimed the lives of two University of Victoria students recently highlighted the urgency of the safety concerns. Since the Bamfield road opened in the 1970s, Huu-ay-aht has lost eight citizens and witnessed countless accidents along this dangerous 78-kilometre logging road.

Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Derek Peters) says by committing to find a solution to this issue the Premier is honouring our elders and the Nation’s sacred principles of ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of….), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One), which guide us as we do business.

Chief Dennis is excited to work with the Province on this important issue as reconciliation is about moving forward together.

Huu-ay-aht showed their appreciation to the Premier by presenting him with a traditional name – Yas̓uk ma tašii (Yatsuk ma tashii), which means “he who walks the path.”

In photo above: Bamfield ACRD Director Bob Beckett, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis, Premier John Horgan, Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters, and MLA Scott Fraser take a moment to remember the lives lost on the Bamfield Road almost two months ago. Huu-ay-aht Councillor Edward R. Johnson and Hereditary Chief Jeff Cook do a prayer on Thursday.

Annual People’s Assembly a success in homeland

This year the annual People’s Assembly was held in Anacla at the House of Huu-ay-aht for the first time in many years, and it was a huge success.

Some citizens chose to stay in Bamfield for the event, but the majority stayed in Port Alberni and travelled by bus to Anacla. Many decided to stay Saturday night in Bamfield to participate in the cultural event once business was closed for the day.

When the bus arrived from Port Alberni quorum was achieved and the official business of the day began. Prior to that Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. reviewed the progress of the previous year’s citizen motions. Below is a summary of these.

Citizen Motions: Executive Council Discussion  Status of Motion
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that Executive Council directs the Huu-ay-aht administration to investigate and study the possibility of increasing the post-secondary living allowance provided to Huu-ay-aht students by at least $250 per month; and that Executive Council considers the matter of approving a minimum $250 increase in monthly funding for all Huu-ay-aht post-secondary students, effective no later than August 2019, as part of the 2018-2019 budgeting process.   The Post-Secondary Support Program has been updated and has incorporated the increases
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that Executive Council directs the Huu-ay-aht administration to investigate allowing Post-Secondary students to claim technology as part of their regular textbook budget; and that Executive Council considers the matter of increasing students’ “textbook” allowance to $900/school year, effective no later than August 2019 as part of the 2018-2019 budgeting process.     The Post-Secondary Support Program has been updated and has incorporated the funds for citizens to purchase a computer
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that Executive Council address the matter of rectifying the inequity between elected officials running for re-election and Huu-ay-aht employees who wish to stand for elected office by either: a) ceasing to provide remuneration for elected officials running for re-election during the campaign period; or b) rescinding the policy of requiring Huu-ay-aht employees running for office to take unpaid leave during the campaign period, so that a solution is in place before April 30, 2019.   Executive Council is having a closer look at the Elections act
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that Executive Council directs the Huu-ay-aht administration to undertake a study of the Huu-ay-aht Constitution with the goal of finding ways to make the government structure more accountable and cost efficient through Constitutional amendments; and further, that Executive Council directs that the study referred to in the previous paragraph be informed by community engagement and questionnaires mailed out to citizens and that it be completed prior to the next election.   Executive Council deferred this to the Law and Policy Development Committee  
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that Executive Council make public the remuneration paid to members of Executive Council and Ḥaw̓iiḥ Council and the expenses paid by the government for each Councillor.   This has been implemented and will show on the audit.
Motion: The People’s Assembly hereby recommends that: 1) Executive Council create a policy regarding the provision of firewood to Elders (the “Elders Firewood Policy”); and 2) the Elders Firewood Policy include a requirement that the firewood to be stacked and accessible to Elders and that, where needed, infrastructure be put in place to keep the wood dry.   Policy is currently being drafted. The Infrastructure Department is working on ensuring elders have the appropriate storage is created for elders.
Be it resolved that the People’s Assembly hereby recommends that: Executive Council reinstate distributions to Huu-ay-aht citizens on their 60th Birthdays and provide $10,000 distributions to all citizens who have turned 60 since the distributions were stopped.   Executive Council decided to keep the increase to the elder’s monthly benefits cheque
Be it resolved that the People’s Assembly hereby recommends that: Executive Council amend the Distribution Policy so that teenagers are given immediate access to distributions that are less than $500, rather than having those funds placed in trust. This was deferred to the Law and Policy Development Committee  

The Chief Councillor also presented this year’s Annual Report, which included the audited financial statements and committee reports. This brought about a number of questions, including concerns about education and training, proper use of Nation assets such as vehicles, wages and expenses of elected officials, management of the Nation’s resources, hiring policies, and much more.

The first order of business to be voted on was the Appointment of the Auditor. Some citizens expressed concerns that the firm that was appointed was the same firm who did not attend this year’s annual People’s Assembly. Councillor Connie Waddell explained that there would be stipulations added to their contract requiring them to attend the People’s Assembly. With the addition of that information the People’s Assembly approve the appointment of BDO as the Nation’s auditor for another year.

The proposed amendments to the Government Act were also approved. This included some changes that were approved during the spring sitting of legislature.

Citizens also heard from the Tribunal, Queen’s University, and the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses.

This year the Assembly addressed four citizen motions. They included the following motions:

  • Executive Council suggest that the HGB administrative offices be located on Huu-ay-aht treaty lands or, at a minimum, require that key HGB management and human resources personnel work on Huu-ay-aht treaty lands.
  • Executive Council direct that an independent auditor conduct a full review of all honoraria paid to Executive Council in relation to all meetings of government and all travel expenses for members of Executive Council paid by the Huu-ay-aht over the past two years and prepare a report, including recommendations and findings, to be made available to all Huu-ay-aht citizens.
  • Approves amending section 77(e) of the Government Act to reduce the quorum requirement for the People’s Assembly to 15% of eligible voters.
  • Executive Council require that $5 per cubic metre of any timber harvest from Huu-ay-aht First Nations traditional territory be contributed to a watershed restoration fund.

All motions were approved by Citizens, with the exception of the quorum requirements, which failed as citizens voted to leave the requirements at the current 20% of the population. The motion on council travel and honoraria for Executive Council was amended to ask that it be reviewed back four years instead of two.

Executive Council will review these motions, make recommendations, and report back to citizen within 90 days of the assembly.

Huu-ay-aht recognized several citizens at the assembly. These included Elders of the Year Simon and Sylvia Dennis and Zelta Clappis. This year’s Citizens of the Year were Duane Nookemis, Kristen Young, Tracey Gilmour, and Colleen Peters. Andrew Clappis was recognized at the Youth of the Year. Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination this year.

The assembly concluded with a culture night lead by Councillor Edward R. Johnson and Chief Councillor Robert Dennis. The evening event was well attended and allowed people to share and celebrate their culture and traditions.

Huu-ay-aht optimistic following meeting with Premier Horgan

Huu-ay-aht First Nations walked away from their meeting with Premier John Horgan feeling optimistic following a productive discussion about the Bamfield Main logging road.

Although disappointed that Horgan’s government is not taking immediate action to upgrade the road, Huu-ay-aht was pleased the premier is committing to first steps in making incremental improvements. The premier also shared with Huu-ay-aht that the ministry has been working for approximately a month on an engineering report on the road. Horgan committed to meeting with the Nation in October to review this study.

“We have been diligent for many years trying to get action on this, with upgrades to the road as our top priority as a nation,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr, following a meeting with the Premier and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure today. “We are saddened that it took a tragedy to highlight the need to chipseal the road. We want the Premier to understand that we are not going to rest until our vital link is safe for all who travel the road.”

Chief Dennis was pleased to hear the ministry was already working on the report prior to the death of two young UVic students on September 13, 2019. He also looks forward to taking Horgan down the road in November, as the premier committed to making the trip.

Although the recent deaths highlight why this is so important to our Nation, this is something Huu-ay-aht has been dealing with for decades. Since the Bamfield road opened in the 1970s, Huu-ay-aht has lost eight citizens and witnessed countless accidents along this dangerous 78-kilometre logging road. We honour our hereditary chiefs and the memory of our lost citizens by continuing to press this important issue.

“Our lives were forever changed when our Tayii Ḥaw̓ił Art Peters, my grandfather, was killed on that road,” says Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin Derek Peters. “Our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of….), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One) guide us as we do business, and the discussion today honours these principles.”

“I feel optimistic moving forward,” explains Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions. “We support and appreciate the dedication Huu-ay-aht has made as they continue to push this issue forward. As a city, we are making this our transportation priority.”

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District director Bob Beckett said the Bamfield community appreciates the efforts Huu-ay-aht as continues to work on this important issue.

“I am a little frustrated because I was hoping for a better outcome, but I remain optimistic because the Premier is committed to working together with everyone involved to come up with a solution,” Beckett says.

Horgan raised questions about the ownership of the road, but Chief Dennis firmly believes the ownership of the road is not going to be an issue, and he is looking forward to working with the Province to chipseal the Bamfield road. He appreciates that Horgan is the first premier willing to sit down with Huu-ay-aht and says it is time to work together to get this done.