PORT HARDY—The Kwakiutl Indian Band terminated its membership in the Nanwakolas Council and rejected the associated B.C. Government Strategic Engagement Agreement last week.
“The rejection stresses that the refusal of the province to recognize and honour Kwakiutl’s Treaty, and by extent, Kwakiutl title and rights, completely undermines the spirit and vision of B.C.’s New Relationship with First Nations,” said a statement released by the Band April 4.
The Kwakiutl were one of eight member Nations that were represented by Nanwakolas prior to withdrawal. Incorporated in 2007, the Nanwakolas’ mandate is to “facilitate dialogue between First Nations and proponents and statutory decision makers regarding resource development applications submitted to the Province of B.C.,” as described on its website.
In practical terms, the council handles the administration of the large volumes of referrals received by its member Nations regarding applications for land use in their traditional territories, and assists in drafting responses.
From the Kwakiutl’s perspective, this process has become mired in “a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare,” resulting in a breakdown of meaningful consultation and informed consent, and “the unprecedented deforestation of Kwakiutl lands.”
By way of example the Band pointed to the fact that under the SEA, 900,000 cubic meters of lumber were harvested from Kwakiutl lands in two years by a single company under a pair of Tree Farm Licenses. The timber was valued at $60 million, with the province receiving $912,000 in stumpage fees.
“The SEA and the entire apparatus of Nanwakolas have proven far too problematic with respect to consultation, allowing government and industry coffers to grow flush with cash while First Nations continue to grapple with poverty,” stated Kwakiutl Chief Rupert Wilson.
The Kwakiutl’s decision to withdraw from Nanwakolas received support from the Musgamagw-Dzawada’enuxw Tribal Council. “This decision further underlines the need for equity of process from the province to First Nations of Northern Vancouver Island,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, Tribal Chair. “The province’s favouring of the Nanwakolas Council Society in land use decision making is at the expense of our member First Nations Aboriginal Rights.”
It is these member rights that the Kwakiutl want properly recognized. “There’s a desire by the Band Council for Canada and B.C. to come to the table and have meaningful discussion,” said Casey Larochelle of the Kwakiutl.
He explained that the Kwakiutl are one of the fourteen Nations that have “Douglas treaties,” a series of land purchases in the 1850s that the courts have consistently upheld as de facto treaties.
“When we look at the value of the minerals, the timber and so on leaving the traditional territories — their value and the jobs created … it’s not acceptable in any way,” said Larochelle. “It’s very important that the Kwakiutl sit down with Canada and B.C. and give life to the treaty of 1851.”