The five Maa-nulth Nations will soon have the authority to craft and enforce their own laws around foreshore development in their territories.
Maa-nulth representatives joined BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations John Rustad in Port Alberni on Tuesday in signing a memorandum of understanding that will lead to Maa-nulth foreshore law making authority.
The province and Maa-nulth also signed an agreement that will see provincial enforcement officials enforce Maa-nulth laws. The agreement also sets out developing enforcement capacity within the Maa-nulth nations.
“This is a building block in the foundation of the community,” said Maa-nulth Vice President Tom Mexsis Happynook.
“We have successfully shed the shackles of the Indian Act and colonialism and stand on our own two feet.”
The Maa-nulth Treaty came into effect in 2011.
The treaty is between the federal and provincial governments and five first nations: Huu-ay-aht, Uchucklesaht, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h, Ucluelet and Toquaht.
The treaty is the first arrangement of its kind on Vancouver Island, and the first multi-nation treaty.
Specifically, the Maa-nulth will be able to develop laws that regulate business and service provision in foreshore areas on their respective treaty lands.
Happynook said that he was satisfied “that our people did made the right choice” when they voted in favour of the Maa-nulth agreement.
“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when we hit year 20.”
The Huu-ay-aht and Ucluelet joined the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District in 2012.
The Uchucklesaht is set to join the ACRD soon.
The new lawmaking authority is similar in nature to that of local governments, Rustad said.
Areas covered include municipal service provision, public health and environmental protection.
“We’re are making our own laws and policies and implementing them,” Uchucklesaht Chief Councillor Charlie Cootes said. “We are now accountable to our people, not to Ottawa.”
A series of floathomes dots the Alberni Inlet, broaching some of those foreshores. The homeowners have no reason to be worried, Rustad said.
A spokesperson at the ministry later clarified that floathome owners with existing tenures granted by the province can continue to be able to use their floathomes without concern.
For those owners who don’t have a tenure, they should contact the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations or the Port Alberni Port Authority immediately to obtain a tenure, which is required under provincial law.
Non Maa-nulth parties will be allowed to provide input before those Maa-nulth laws come into effect, and hence reduce the potential for conflict.
But if there is a dispute, the non-Maa-nulth party will be guaranteed due process under Maa-nulth law. And non-Maa-nulth parties retain the right to seek due process through the provincial courts after Maa-nulth options have been spent.
The foreshores connects with parts of federal jurisdiction. Rustad clarified that the MOU only applies to the creation of laws within the province’s jurisdiction on foreshores.
Maa-nulth laws have to be consistent with federal and provincial laws, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations clarified.
“But if there is a dispute between a federal or provincial law and a Maa-nulth law, federal or provincial law would prevail.”
Maa-nulth laws will set out how their foreshore areas will be managed.
Maa-nulth First Nation zoning laws might allow for residential use but house boats will need to be built to BC building code specifications, the spokesperson said.