Tseshaht First Nation historian Darrell Ross was ready to tell a story as a group of us walked along the banks of the Somass River to the training centre at Paper Excellence on Friday, Dec. 3.
We were to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Tseshaht and Catalyst Paper, formalizing the relationship between the two.
Storytelling is one of the ways Indigenous people preserve and pass on oral history and mark important events. Ross shared a story about his brother fishing in the waters off the mill site, and how people came together to help save him when the motor on his small boat quit.
The story of cooperation seemed a fitting way to begin the day. Wahmeesh Ken Watts, elected chief councillor for Tseshaht, and Walter Tarnowsky, general manager for Catalyst Paper (a division of Paper Excellence Canada) signed an agreement that will see the two entities work together in the future for the betterment of both of them. Tseshaht hereditary chief Josh Goodwill and his son were there as witnesses.
This is at least the seventh MOU the Tseshaht First Nation has signed with business and government entities in the region: they signed a similar document with San Group owners on July 26, 2021, whose remanufacturing plant is located beside the paper mill.
The MOUs create a framework for two entities to work within. Kamal Sanghera, CEO of San Group, said their MOU was signed from “a position of mutual respect and cooperation. Today (July 26) is the beginning of our formal relationship,” he said.
Watts said the MOUs “create the first step. (They) help guide our work.”
He said the MOUs are also about relationships—creating new ones or mending fences with relationships that “weren’t so good” in the past. “What better way to start that out than with some type of agreement and then let’s get to work.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission talks about reconciliation being something in which everyone must participate if we are to move forward together. Formally recognizing Indigenous knowledge and culture between First Nations and businesses or other levels of government is an important step. Action is another.
Paper Excellence has already shown they are serious about this relationship with Tseshaht. On Sept. 30, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the company donated $10,000 toward a memorial for residential school survivors and the children who didn’t return home. Staff members participated in a community walk as well.
Tarnowsky and Lana Wilhem, community and Indigenous relations lead for Paper Excellence, committed on Friday to “rolling up our sleeves” and setting the MOU into action come January.
In a demonstration of true reconciliation, both Tseshaht and Paper Excellence are already putting the words of this agreement into action. Their example is one that all of us should follow.
— Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.