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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.

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.