PORT HARDY—A planned grand opening for the new Canadian Coast Guard boat house was disrupted Tuesday afternoon when nearly two dozen Kwakiutl First Nation elders and other band members established a picket line of protest signs on the street above the building.
The nation is protesting the Crown’s failure to consult on construction of the Coast Guard’s new office and boat house on a traditional village site at the end of Shipley Street.
“We wrote to them in June,” Kwakiutl elected chief Corrine Child said. “Basically we wanted to sit down with them; actually, to find who to sit down with. They had all these dignitaries and officials come through, but who was responsible for sitting down with th Kwakiutl about this facility, and what services it is going to provide?”
The Coast Guard announced last week a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial opening for the new facility, located just up the shore from its old office on Government Wharf. The event was called off after the Kwakiutl notified organizers of their planned protest. Instead, a general tour and open house was hosted for a number of dignitaries, including North Vancouver Island MLA Claire Trevena and uniformed members of Port Hardy’s Canadian Legion branch, who were already scheduled to attend.
“It’s tantamount to an insult and an abrogation of treaty,” said Norman Champagne, Kwakiutl Band manager. “All we wanted was to communicate this to the Crown, but our request has gone unheeded. It’s a denial, a dishonouring and a disrespecting of Kwakiutl title and traditional territorial rights.”
Tom Child, Kwakiutl Lands Manager, pointed out the protest is against the government’s failure to recognize and consult with the band, not against the Coast Guard’s presence on traditional territory.
“It’s not about the Coast Guard people who are our neighbours,” he said.
The first sign-waving protesters arrived about noon Tuesday, in advance of the planned 1 p.m. ribbon-cutting. The crowd grew steadily as more members arrived, including hereditary chief George Hunt and elder Wata (Christine Joseph).
“This territory here belongs to our people,” said Joseph. “If we did something like that on land that is not ours, we will be jailed.
“We want our younger generation to know our territories, and for our generation here to know we do have our rights to our territories. We don’t have much left, but we’re standing up for what little we do have left.”