LETTER: Reconciliation must be a joint effort, say Western Forest Products, Huu-ay-aht First Nations

To the Editor,

Reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples is the foundation for strong, healthy and sustainable Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities across British Columbia and Canada.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) provides the best framework for achieving this reconciliation. Both Canada and British Columbia have taken the historic step of endorsing that framework.

Now the hard work begins. As Premier Horgan stated, “Will it be easy? No. Reconciliation is not for wimps.”

We all must do our part. As the TRC noted we must all practise reconciliation in our everyday lives – this includes ourselves, our families, and in our communities, governments, unions, schools, and in our businesses.

In the Alberni Valley, Huu-ay-aht First Nations (HFN) and Western Forest Products Inc. (WFP) have started the hard work of defining what reconciliation means to them and are piloting a shared vision of what reconciliation could look like in the forest sector. We are hopeful our success will serve as one example of a path forward for all those who work and live in the Alberni Valley.

Reconciliation begins with all of us acknowledging that for millennia before commercial logging operations began on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Huu-ay-aht and neighbouring First Nations used and occupied the area now covered by forest tenures. For decades, the interests of Huu-ay-aht and other First Nations were ignored or only minimally accommodated as successive companies harvested the land base, including TFL 44.

Today we are changing that story and WFP and the Huu-ay-aht First Nation are moving forward together by building a new relationship across the Huu-ay-aht Ha-houlthee (traditional territory) including Huu-ay-aht Treaty Settlement Lands and the tenures we respectively hold.

Earlier this year, Western and Huu-ay-aht concluded a series of agreements, including the purchase and long-term lease back of Western’s dry land sort at Sarita, a 200,000-cubic-metre timber sale from Huu-ay-aht’s Lands, and an employment and training agreement. In partnership, we are now implementing those agreements as we look for opportunities to operate together across a larger land base.

The joint exploration of future opportunities will combine respect for Huu-ay-aht’s exclusive jurisdiction over their Treaty Settlement Lands with an examination of shared decision-making over other lands within the Huu-ay-aht Ha-houlthee. This will include seeking further ways to incorporate traditional values and customs in forestry management across the Huu-ay-aht Ha-houlthee. Importantly, this reconciliation effort will be pursued in a manner which enhances – not jeopardizes – the economic viability of TFL 44.

While forestry is the focus of our relationship, we recognize that everyone succeeds if the economy of the Alberni Valley is strong, healthy and diverse. While there will be ups and downs in the world economy that affect our success, Western and Huu-ay-aht are committed to a common vision of reconciliation that supports mutual benefits, sustainability, and a bright future for everyone living on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This vision creates room for all – we will achieve much more by all working together with good faith and respect guiding the way.

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr., ?imcis,

Chief Derek Peters,

Tayii Hawił Aiišin,

Huu-ay-aht First Nations and

Shannon Janzen,

Vice President and Chief Forester, Western Forest Products Inc.

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