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Huu-ay-aht sees cultural centre partnership as exciting step in reconciliation journey

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is excited by the announcement of funds that will alow the community to move forward with their cultural centre in their village. The announcement was made today by the governments of Canada and British Columbia, and the Nation sees it as an exciting and important step toward reconciliation.

Today, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities; the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development; and the Honourable Scott Fraser, Member of Legislative Assembly for Mid Island-Pacific Rim, on behalf of the Honourable Selina Robinson, B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, announced funding for 22 projects on the Island under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan.

Huu-ay-aht’s cultural centre was among the recipients. The projects are an investment in community infrastructure by the two levels of government to benefit communities on Vancouver Island. The project is also expected to support economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19.

Huu-ay-aht will build a new culture centre to provide the community with a language training room, a kitchen, dedicated areas for the production and the sale of arts and crafts, multi-purpose rooms, and washrooms. The facility will also have a multi-purpose field with bleachers for soccer and softball, and a presentation stage with stands for outdoor cultural events.

Huu-ay-aht Councillor Charlie Clappis attended the announcement and spoke about the important role this cultural centre will play in the remote community on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

“We want to find ways to continue to invest in our community as we work toward bringing our people home,” Councillor Clappis said. “We are excited to participate in this partnership, and we look forward to starting this long-awaited project.”

He added that there are several components to the project that will help promote cultural wellness in their community. The centre will feature an elders’ section that will give opportunity storytelling, which is an important part of Huu-ay-aht’s culture. It will also offer recreational opportunities in the upper village with a plan to build playing fields beside the centre.

Under the treaty, Huu-ay-aht also negotiated the return of some significant cultural treasures from the Royal BC Museum and Archives in Victoria. Several of these items were returned in 2016 and are on display in the government office in Anacla. The cultural centre will give these items a permanent home and make room for the return of more treasures.

The Government of Canada is contributing more than $33.2 million, the Government of British Columbia is contributing over $8.7 million and the individual applicants are contributing more than $12.2 million to these projects through the Community, Culture, and Recreation Infrastructure Stream (CCRIS), and the Rural and Northern Communities Infrastructure Stream (RNIS) of the Investing in Canada Plan.

More than $23.2 million of the federal and provincial funding is going to eight projects in Indigenous communities.

For more details on these projects, check out the full announcement.

Pachena Bay Campground will remain closed for 2020

Pachena Bay Campground Management and staff have made the difficult decision that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campground will remain closed for the 2020 camping season.

For more information, see the attached announcement related to the Pachena Bay Campground closure.

Thank you for your understanding.

Huu-ay-aht urges Province to upgrade Bamfield Road following release of report on 2019 UVic bus accident

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. talks to Premier John Horgan and MLA and Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser at the site of the 2019 UVic bus accident. The Premier travelled the road in the fall of 2019 and met with Huu-ay-aht First Nations.

Huu-ay-aht First Nations strongly supports the recommendations made in an independent report released today by the University of Victoria (UVic), but calls on the province to make the necessary safety improvements to the Bamfield Road.

The recently released report is in response to the bus accident on the Bamfield Main logging road September 2019 that claimed the lives of students John Geerdes and Emma Machado. It makes recommendations that will address travel policies for UVic, but it falls short when it comes to demanding upgrades to the dangerous road.

“The report refers to the road as dangerous and makes recommendations on steps they can take to travel it more safely, but what we really need are significant improvements to the road itself,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “No one else should lose their life on this road. It is time to chipseal it and make it safe for everyone who travels it.”

The 85-kilometre logging road is extremely dangerous. Chief Dennis believes that if the road had been upgraded prior to the UVic trip last fall, the bus would not have rolled down the embankment. He stresses that recommendations like using pilot cars and not travelling at night will not make the road safe for everyone. If the province wants to honour the memory of these young adults, it must move forward on the chipsealing of the Bamfield Road.

Last fall, Premier John Horgan travelled the road to Bamfield and agreed that safety improvements are needed. Huu-ay-aht First Nations has done the planning and engineering and is willing to contribute financially to a project that would see the 85-kilometre logging road chipsealed. Huu-ay-aht believes the time for action is now.

Chief Dennis adds that road improvements could be an economic stimulant for the province, post COVID-19, because it is shovel ready and workers could be on the ground soon if the province chooses to move forward. Investing in these upgrades would create employment and save lives by making the road safer to travel.

Chief Dennis does not want to come across another crash like this one or mourn more lives lost due to dangerous driving conditions.

“This accident was devastating, and as a Nation we felt the loss of these two young students and understand the impact this has had on their families as we have also lost friends and family on the Bamfield Road,” explains Chief Dennis. “UVic has shown respect to the students and their families throughout the process, and we are glad to have this report complete and see the recommendations, many of which echo the requests our Nation has been bringing to the provincial government for decades.”

Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Head Chief Derek Peters) stresses that by committing to following through on today’s recommendations, UVic is honouring the sacred principles of the Huu-ay-aht people: ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is connected). He appreciates the support the University has shown to the Bamfield Road project.

“The Machado and Geerdes families have asked that the road improvements be carried out as a legacy to their children instead of any form of memorial,” explains ƛiišin. “Since the road opened in the 1970s, Huu-ay-aht has also lost eight citizens and witnessed countless accidents on the dangerous road – including my grandfather. I would like this project to be done as a legacy for every life that has been lost on the Bamfield Road.” Huu-ay-aht will continue to work with the province, UVic, the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, and Western Forest Products to ensure the road improvements move forward.

Huu-ay-aht to receive $5.4 million in treaty loan forgiveness from Federal Government

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.