History was made in Port Alberni as representatives of the Huu-ay-aht and Ucluelet First Nations were sworn in as members of the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District Wednesday afternoon.
“I am qualified to hold the office of director for the regional district of Alberni-Clayoquot to which I have been appointed,” Huu-ay-aht representative John Jack said before Justice of the Peace Cathleen Bradley.
“I will faithfully perform the duties of my office and will not allow any private interest to influence my conduct in public matters.”
And with the stroke of pens signing the oaths, the two First Nations became official voting members of the ACRD, bringing their number of members to 12. The Uchucklesaht and Toquaht First Nations have the option of joining later.
“I never thought I’d be standing here,” Ucluelet First Nation rep Al McCarthy said.
Joining the ACRD was a provision outlined in the Maa-nulth treaty, which the four nations along with Kyuquot First Nation signed last year. Kyuquot is set to join the Mount Waddington Regional District.
The provincial government adopted an order in council decreeing the move in March.
The Tsawwassen First Nation, which is part of the Metro Vancouver regional district, is the only other First Nation to have joined a regional district.
“We’re not going through INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) anymore, we’re doing it ourselves, McCarthy said.
McCarthy is asked most often why his tribe is joining the ACRD. “My response is ‘why shouldn’t we join the ACRD,’” McCarthy said before the meeting.
Huu-ay-aht’s presence at the table today is the result of years of work, tribal rep John Jack said. “Our late chief Art Peters championed pursuing new deals and all of that work has culminated in this day,” Jack said. “I think that this is a place we can sit together and work.”
Jack said he foresees a time when parties disagree, but now “resolving disputes in a democratic way is more conducive to…government.”
The tribes bring opportunities to the ACRD table and in return need the knowledge and experience of the members of the public body. “I know there’s a lot of that at this table,” Jack said.
The day is historic, said ACRD chair Glenn Wong. “I look at this as a life-long journey,” Wong said, adding that he’s known Ucluelet First Nation rep Al McCarthy for 50 years. “We’re going to do business and do it well.”
Other directors welcomed the tribes to the table. But Beaufort director Mike Kokura was pragmatic about the future.
“Nobody could have predicted 30 years ago that natives would be sitting here making decisions about the district,” Kokura said. “We won’t always agree but we will always leave as friends.”
After the meeting, Kokura clarified his statement. “I might bring forward a resolution that isn’t popular with Ucluelet or Huu-ay-aht or vice versa,” he said. “But it’s business and you have to learn not to take it personally.”
Kokura said he remembered when First Nations people weren’t allowed to vote. “Now that self government is here we can all go on with our lives,” he said.
The tribes bring more intellectual, cultural and monetary capital to the table, ACRD chief administrative officer, Russell Dyson said.
“They’re an important component of the region and their inclusion more broadly reflects the community,” Dyson said.
Ucluelet and Huu-ay-aht will appoint members of their governments to the board in the same manner as some of the other ACRD communities, Dyson said.
The tribes will participate in the ACRD’s administration as well as on the hospital board. Any costs associated with expanding the board have been built into the 2012-2013 ACRD budget, he said.
“The budget that has been adopted reflects the increased costs of new directors.”
The tribes’ additions have had a more immediate effect on the ACRD structure. The boardroom is no longer large enough to sit everyone at the table. Dyson said renovations to the building on Angus Street should be completed within the next month.