The Tseshaht First Nation and Paper Excellence Canada on Friday, Dec. 3 signed a memorandum of understanding on how the two will do business together at the Catalyst Paper mill in Port Alberni.
“This document outlines many objectives. None of them are more important than all of us recognizing and respecting the Aboriginal rights of the Tseshaht First Nation,” mill general manager Walter Tarnowsky said. “These two critical principles—respect and recognition—we must follow in the spirit of trust and honesty.”
He called the MOU the beginning of a process toward reconciliation.
Tseshaht First Nation Chief Councillor Wahmeesh Ken Watts said signing the MOU solidifies a relationship between the two that began decades ago. The mill is located on the Somass River, an important waterway that historically connected traditional Tseshaht villages.
“For Tseshaht it is really important, not just because of the location of the paper mill here, but the history that was once here as a village, as a community, as employment for many of our community members from decades ago until recently,” said Wahmeesh Ken Watts, elected chief councillor for Tseshaht First Nation.
“It’s a totally interconnected feeling for us, it’s not just about jobs; it’s about sharing history. It’s about sharing culture.”
Watts and Tseshaht member Darrell Ross performed a chant to begin proceedings, something that is always done to start important business. Ross told a story from the Tseshaht’s beginnings as a way to share their culture with those gathered in the Catalyst training centre. He then shared a story about how he worked at Catalyst as a summer student for several summers.
This is the latest of at least six MOUs that Tseshaht have signed with business and government entities around the Alberni Valley. Watts said Paper Excellence is the largest business with which they have signed an MOU to date.
Watts hopes to meet with mill management in the new year “and talk about deliverables…If we could set some milestones of what we would like to do in the first year, and the years after, it would put action to the words here on the paper,” he said.
Objectives include economic development, education and training for Tseshaht members as well as sharing of culture and history. The Somass River is considered a lifeline for Tseshaht First Nation, and historically has connected traditional village sites from Polly’s Point in the south to Clutesi Haven Marina and then where the Tseshaht administration building is located now. Watts would like to see some acknowledgment of Tseshaht history, whether it is something as simple as a storyboard on a wall to something larger like an art piece.
Protecting the waterway is important to both parties, and Watts said the Tseshaht hope they can help maintain or protect the river through a mutual project with Catalyst Paper (Paper Excellence).
A number of Tseshaht members already work at the paper mill, and Watts hopes the number will grow through the MOU.
“There are so many employment training opportunities here,” Watts said.
“If we can get one program here in the next year, I’ll be happy. If we can get one person working here in the next year I would consider this whole (MOU) a success.”