The Tseshaht First Nation has signed two accords that are designed to strengthen government-to-government relationships as the Nation builds its economy.
Last week members of the Tseshaht council sat down for a meal and discussion with the City of Port Alberni, signing a new accord that will guide how the two governments communicate. Port Alberni’s council has committed to holding at least one meeting per year with Tseshaht, and discussing plans with the values and rights of Tseshaht in mind.
The Tseshaht had on Jan. 29 signed a cooperation, collaboration and communication accord with the Port Alberni Port Authority with a similar goal. The accord with PAPA helps to formalize a process for the port authority and Tseshaht to collaborate, cooperate and communicate over projects of mutual interest.
Tseshaht Councillor Ken Watts said the accord with the port authority was an important one for the First Nation, which shares common borders along the waterfront at the Alberni Inlet. “It was about improving relationships and putting it down on paper,” he said.
“PAPA’s respect for our First Nation is displayed through their agreement ‘when applicable, to attempt to gain the free, prior and informed consent’ of our First Nation on items that may impact our title and rights,” Watts said. “In my opinion, although the Crown ultimately has this duty [PAPA is federal], PAPA’s willingness to at least attempt to gain our consent is ground-breaking.
“There’s some economic development projects we’re hoping to do and there’s some potential interest.”
Zoran Knezevic, president and CEO of the port authority, said the relationship with Tseshaht began with Clutesi Haven Marina. “We saw potentially we can collaborate in developing an attraction,” he said. The relationship continued with the Tseshaht’s interests in Port Fish on the industrial waterfront.
“We have our jurisdiction on the water touching the Tseshaht interests on land. We see a lot of areas that are overlapping,” he added. “We both have the same interests in wanting economic growth for the region.”
Tseshaht, added Watts, are focusing on job creation. And in order to create jobs and grow their economy, “we have to work with everybody.”
That means strengthening relationships, he added.
“It’s very important to have an accord in place so that regardless of who sits in a leadership place…the foundation is set to build or continue a relationship,” Tseshaht Chief Councillor Cynthia Dick said.
She acknowledged that the work between Tseshaht and the City of Port Alberni began in 2016, before she was elected into office. Protocol agreements have been in place in the past and renewed annually. When Ken Watts was elected as a councillor he made it a priority to review all those agreements, Dick said.
“We thought we don’t want to just sign another agreement and have a document that sits on a shelf that nobody reads,” she said. “We thought it was very important to work on the relationship first. We think about where we first started and where we are today…it’s such a significant step we’ve taken.”
Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions said it was heartening to see both councils mixed together at the table prior to signing the accord with the Tseshaht.
When the first council-to-council meeting occurred between the two, the councils sat across from each other. She said it demonstrates how far the relationship has come.
“I think reconciliation is getting to know each other: building relationships, building friendships, and building a place of trust, where we know our governments are going to work respectfully together,” she said.
“We value rights and processes and each others’ cultures and histories.”
The Tseshaht is also part of the reconciliation committee struck two years ago in the Alberni Valley that recently completed its mandate. Dick said the committee has compiled and reviewed a final report, which it hopes to share with local councils very soon, before presenting it to the public.
“The Tseshaht has made it a priority which relationships we needed to work on a government-to-government basis,” she said.
The City of Port Alberni, port authority, Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District and other First Nations are all on that list, she said, adding that the nation is mindful they already have relationships with the provincial and federal governments.
“Although they’re all different, they’re all interconnected. What it all comes down to is making sure Tseshaht has a seat at the table and that our rights and interests are being heard.”