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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.

Huu-ay-aht ready to work with Premier to improve safety of road

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is pleased that their call for action following a fatal crash on the Bamfield Main road has been answered by the premier.

“We called for an immediate meeting to discuss what can be done to ensure there is a safe route for everyone travelling this road, and that meeting is going to happen next week,” says Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy like we witnessed last Friday to bring about action, but we are pleased that yesterday Premier John Horgan vowed to upgrade the logging road that connects our community to Port Alberni.”

Bamfield Main is an 85-kilometre gravel logging road connecting the West Coast communities of Bamfield and Anacla to Port Alberni. It can be dangerous due to potholes, industrial truck traffic, poor driving conditions, steep embankments, slippery conditions in the winter, and dry summers that causes dust and limited visibility. Huu-ay-aht has been actively looking for support in their efforts to improve this vital link, but only recently have they seen success on a provincial level.   

In the spring, Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions raised concerns over the road, on behalf of Port Alberni City Council. She said her council is thrilled to hear Premier Horgan has committed to working with the leaders in the area to address the safety concerns on the Bamfield road.

“The tragedy that occurred last weekend has left hearts broken and families devastated, and we are committed to working with the provincial government to ensure an accident like this never happens again,” she says. “We would like to extend our greatest thanks to Chief Dennis and the Huu-ay-aht community for recognizing and continually advocating for the critical need for improvements to this road.”

Huu-ay-aht also received support in its continued effort for improvements from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, MLA Scott Fraser, and MP Gord Johns all prior to and since the bus accident.

“This kind of support is important because the condition of the road to Bamfield is key to ensuring safe passage to our community, and also to achieve reconciliation, economic sustainability, and our social goal of bringing our people home,” points out the Chief Councillor. “We are saddened by the loss of two young students, and we will honour them by doing everything we can to ensure it never happens again.”

Prior to the incident on Friday, September 13, Huu-ay-aht was meeting with Transportation Minister Claire Trevena at next week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities in Vancouver. Huu-ay-aht will now also meet with the Premier at UBCM.

Chief Dennis says their discussions will shift from whether the province will support Huu-ay-aht’s proposed upgrades to how can everyone involved work together to make these changes happen in a timely fashion.

Huu-ay-aht offers condolences following Friday’s bus crash

Huu-ay-aht First Nations would like to offer its condolences to the family and loved ones of the two University of Victoria students killed in the bus crash late Friday night near Bamfield.

“Our hearts are heavy this morning after learning of this tragic loss,” explains Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “One of our three sacred principles is Hišuk ma c̓awak (Everything is One), and it is our belief that we are all connected. As a community, we want to offer our condolences to everyone involved in this incident.”

Chief Dennis was at the scene last night assisting with the efforts. He says this is a difficult time for everyone involved, especially the 48 people who were travelling on the bus at the time of the crash and their loved ones.

Huu-ay-aht would also like to expresses its appreciation to all of the first responders and volunteers who attended the incident. This includes the Port Alberni RCMP members, paramedics, firefighters, and seach and rescue volunteers, as well as the air support that was offered from 442 Squadron Comox.

“We live in a remote part of Vancouver Island, connected to larger communities by a logging road. We have known for a long time of the safety issues related to this road,” Chief Dennis says. “Knowing we have such a strong team ready to respond when needed means a lot to our community, and we want to make sure they know how much we appreciate their sacrifices.”

Chief Dennis would also like to express his appreciation to the City of Port Alberni for all they have done to help the victims of the crash. While the most serious were airlifted to Victoria General Hospital, the City of Port Alberni set up a reception centre at Echo Centre for the remaining victims, until they were bused back to Victoria.

At the time of the crash, the bus was travelling to the Bamfield Marine Science Centre along the Bamfield Road. This approximately 85-kilometre stretch of logging road is known to be dangerous. Huu-ay-aht First Nations has been actively trying to work with all levels of government to address the safety challenges this vital link poses for its citizens and others who travel the road.

“I believe this incident highlights the need for an immediate meeting with the province to discuss what can be done to ensure there is a safe route between Bamfield and Port Alberni,” Chief Dennis explains. “Safety on this road is one of our primary concerns as a Nation. Too many lives have already been lost.”     

MP Gord Johns meets with Huu-ay-aht

Wednesday, August 21, 2019 Huu-ay-aht Executive Council, administrative staff and fishers met with Gord Johns, Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni.

Huu-ay-aht took the opportunity to focus on fisheries issues such as working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on policy changes that will enable Huu-ay-aht fishers to fish and make a reasonable living, enacting the “me too” clause and agreement (see August Uyaqḥmis), salmon renewal and enhancement and creating new opportunities. Elected Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr.  also shared stories of Huu-ay-aht’s strong history of boat building, and acknowledged present fishers and recognized the fishers unable to attend.

Gord Johns followed the comments by Chief Robert J. Dennis Sr. and our fishers by discussing how he values the relationship with Huu-ay-aht and the other Nuu-chah-nulth and First Nations. The MP acknowledged British Columbia is experiencing a Salmon crisis. He would like to see a full salmon crisis campaign to support salmon fisheries including restoration and seeing licences in the hands of fishers, and a conclusion to the Ahousaht et. al case.

After the meeting, the group headed down to the Bamfield dock to look at James Nookemus’ boat, Nawanhe II and gather for the Kiix̣in Tour. The tour was led by Stella Peters with additional comments and stories from Robert J. Dennis Sr., Ed Johnson Sr., Councillor Edward R. Johnson, and Councillor Connie Waddell. This tour allowed Huu-ay-aht to give our MP a glimpse of Huu-ay-aht’s connection to the land and sea, and why fisheries and ocean resource harvesting are a central piece of Huu-ay-aht culture.