Huu-ay-aht up ante in treaty talks

 

Shayne Morrow

Alberni Valley Times

 

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

With forest tenure, commercial fishing rights and a paved road to Bamfield now off the treaty table, Huu-ay-aht First Nation has demanded higher compensation for infringement on its traditional territory, until a treaty is signed.

 

HFN chief councillor Robert Dennis said the move comes after meetings last month between federal and provincial negotiators and the five Ma-Nulth Nations (Huu-ay-aht, Kyuquot-Checklesaht, Toquaht, Uchucklesaht and Ucluelet). Dennis said the government position has severely narrowed the economic prospects for his people.

 

"They informed the Ma-Nulth negotiating table that the government will not consider committing funds to paving the road to Bamfield 'in the foreseeable future,'" Dennis told the Times Monday. "(Former MLA) Gerard Janssen gave me that same term, 'not the in the foreseeable future,' years ago, so it's obviously the standard buzz-words."

 

FORESTRY FUTURE LIMITED

 

HFN had hoped to receive additional forest tenure, over and above the land which will be title transferred to the band as part of a future treaty settlement. Last month, government negotiators advised that the idea is a non-starter, Dennis said.

 

"HFN will receive negotiated amounts of land. Their position is that the amount of land will contain sufficient forest tenure," he said. "But in our territory, 85 per cent has already been logged off, and what's left of the old-growth has so many conditions on it you can't do much of anything on it."

 

So unless HFN moves into harvesting 40- to 50-year-old trees, the band's forestry prospects are decades into the future. That's unacceptable to Huu-ay-aht, Dennis said.

 

DIFFERING FISHERIES VISIONS

 

On the issue of fisheries, federal negotiator Eric Denhoff says it's not strictly true that HFN will not receive commercial fishing rights as part of treaty.

 

"What they've been told is that they will be able to purchase commercial fishing licenses from within the industry," Denhoff said. "There will be cash provided as part of the treaty settlement to purchase those licenses."

 

Denhoff said he was not sure if those commercial licenses would allow HFN to sell fish taken in traditional fisheries in terminal areas, such as practiced on the Somass River. The Times was referred to the treaty specialist from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Stuart Kerr, but Kerr said he was also unclear as to what type of fisheries were on the table for negotiation.

 

BAMFIELD ROAD CRITICAL

 

Dennis said having both governments write off paving the Bamfield road is a major blow to HFN, to the community of Bamfield and the city of Port Alberni.

 

"You have to look at what paving that road would do for South Port, with all that traffic travelling through," he said, noting that the Johnston Road Corridor depends on West Coast highway traffic for shoppers.

 

But the need is even more acute for Bamfield and Huu-ay-aht, Dennis said. With fishing and forestry prospects limited, HFN has focused significant effort towards increasing tourism in its traditional territory.

 

"A paved road to Bamfield is an integral part of the Huu-ay-aht strategy for economic development, as well as for the regional district," he said. "HFN commissioned a Class C estimate (for paving the road) which came to about $45 million. That was presented to then-transport minister Judith Reid. I guess it went right to the bottom of the pile."

 

Provincial negotiator Mark Lofthouse was not available for comment Monday. Denhoff noted that, as federal negotiator, he is not directly involved with the Bamfield Road issue.

 

"The province would do the paving, although the cost would be shared with the federal government," Denhoff said. "Realistically, there isn't that kind of money in the agreement for that size of project."

 

Under the current Ma-nulth agreement in principle (AIP), the cost of the road would swallow up most of HFN's share of the cash settlement, he said. It would be up to the province to make a determination of the overarching community need, and then determine where the money would come from, Denhoff said.

 

CHANGING THE GOALPOSTS

 

But with the federal and provincial governments closing off future avenues for economic development outside the immediate treaty lands, HFN will now be seeking a richer deal for what's left, Dennis said.

 

"The Huu-ay-aht Band Council has now amended our mandate for Tom Happynook, our chief negotiator, in response to the government's announcement that we're not going to have a paved road to Bamfield, that we're not going to have the right to sell fish from our own territory and that we're not going to receive any forest tenure," Dennis said.

 

HFN tabled its updated mandate on July 12, and the government negotiators have already responded,' Dennis said.

 

"What they're telling us is that it's going to be difficult to approve the package that we've tabled," he said. "We've tabled some innovative ideas which we'd like included in the Treaty Interim Measures Agreement (TIMA)."

 

HFN currently receives compensation for commercial activity (mainly forestry) which is conducted within its traditional territories. With those infringements (forestry, fisheries and tourism) apparently off the table, HFN is now calling for a revenue-sharing component within TIMA which will reflect that change.

 

"In other words, that infringement just increased, and we will now have to expand our area of claim," Dennis said. HFN will continue to demand forest tenure as part of treaty, and will continue to demand meaningful consultation on activity conducted within HFN traditional territory, he added.

 

INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDED

 

The band currently has plans for expansion in its home village of Anacla, near Pachena Bay. That includes 27 houses on reserve land, plus more housing on an adjacent property which the band purchased recently.

 

"But that's all on hold until the government provides water and sewer service," Dennis said. Those were the sort of infrastructure items which were anticipated under the Kelowna Accord. But the Accord went south with the change of government in January, and those items are now on the table.

 

"Those are services which are provided by local government. But with Kelowna on hold, and our local government status (under a future treaty) on hold, these are services which we need now," he said.

 

WON'T BE CO-OPTED

 

Dennis also added that HFN will not be bought off. Currently, the band is party to a BC Supreme Court Challenge by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council over the right to sell fish commercially.

 

"The government negotiators have asked HFN to remove themselves from the NTC fisheries challenge, in exchange for sweetening our deal," Dennis said. "In that case, our response is 'No,' because our own position is that our aboriginal title allows us to sell fish."

 

The challenge also encompasses use of foreshore lands for commercial purposes. With the band now moving heavily into the shellfish aquaculture industry, that's something HFN will not jeopardize, Dennis said.

 

Alberni Valley Times 2006