Natives to have big say in how park is run


Miro Cernetig

Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


VICTORIA - Six of B.C.'s first nations will be given greater control over the operation and development of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, 62 square kilometres of protected sea and land in the Strait of Georgia that is under increasing development pressure.

The agreement, which will be signed Saturday between the federal government and the 6,000 members of the Hul'qumi'num First Nation, is part of a trend to extend the influence of natives within B.C. parks, many of which are in what the province describes as "asserted traditional territory" of the province's aboriginal peoples.

On Tuesday, the B.C. government also introduced an accord that will give the 'Namgis First Nation, located on Cormorant Island off Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, greater control of a similar sweep of geography comprising more than a dozen parks and protected areas on the northern tip of Vancouver island.

The agreements, which are part of a trend to try and weave first nations' treaty demands into the management of Crown parks, will give natives a say over everything from how to write signs in the parks to the placement of trails and campgrounds. It will also give natives an opportunity to integrate their traditional demands for aboriginal food harvests -- from digging beach clams to catching salmon to shooting deer -- within the tourist activities of the popular sites.

"It's basically about maintaining our people's connection to the land and showing respect," said Chief Robert Morales, lead negotiator of the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group.

Morales said that over the centuries both nature and forgetfulness have resulted in some key religious and archeological sites, ranging from ancient villages to sacred burial sites, being unappreciated or even desecrated. He said the new agreement, which sets up a committee in which natives will advise Parks Canada about best uses of the popular Gulf Islands park, will help educate the public about the aboriginal history and increase cross-cultural sensitivity.

"I think there was one situation [in the Gulf Islands] where toilets were put up over a burial site," he said. "I hope the public will understand. You don't build your houses on top of burial grounds."

A similar approach of park management is being touted by the provincial government, which has vowed to create "a new relationship" with first nations. It calls the agreement covering the northern tip of Vancouver Island -- which includes the popular killer whale site Robson Bight Ecological Reserve and Cormorant Channel Marine Provincial Park -- a model for the future.

"This government-to-government agreement between the province and the 'Namgis will allow us to work together to manage parks as effectively as possible," said Environment Minister Barry Penner.

Morales said his new agreement is an important step for aboriginals in British Columbia, giving them a say over future development. But he also said the public need not fear a land grab is underway because B.C. first nations, many of whom share competing claims over the Gulf Islands, have a history and tradition of sharing.

"Historically, we shared these areas," he said.

"We used them cooperatively. We've never had the view the land is for us to deal with exclusively. That's something we hope to continue."