VICTORIA—The ‘Namgis First Nation became the latest signatory as the Province of British Columbia and the Nanwakolas Council renewed a resource-sharing agreement covering 4.5 million hectares of Northern Vancouver Island and the adjacent coast.
Chief Bill Cranmer and a contingent of singers from the Alert Bay band attended the signing ceremony, held Monday at the B.C. Legislature.
“It’s an agreeement with Nanwakolas First Nations, which now number 10 first nations in our language group,” said Cranmer. “It will be a continuation of the work the Nanwakolas does to benefit first nations in referrals, revenue sharing and everything to do with resources in the area.”
The original agreement was signed in 2007 with six member nations. The three-year extension signed Monday included for the first time the ‘Namgis and the We Wai Kai Nations, who added a combined 1.1 million hectares of asserted traditional territory.
“The other important area covered by the Nanwakolas is the shared, or overlapping territories of the 10 member nations,” said Cranmer. “That’s in both dispute resolution and revenue sharing. If we have resource revenues we agree to share in it instead of arguing over whose territory we’re in.”
Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith said other B.C. First Nations were skeptical of his group entering into forestry, mining and hydroelectric power deals without having treaties.
But since it was established in 2007, the number of Nanwakolas members participating has grown from six to 10, and similar “strategic engagement agreements” have been signed around the province. The agreement is leading towards a formal deal with coastal forest companies, a proposed coal mine and several proposed independent power projects, Smith said.
“We’ve always been a member of the Nanwakolas in the Coastal Planning Process since 2007, from the North Coast territories right down through the mainland inlets across from Cape Mudge and Campbell River,” Cranmer said. “But Vancouver Island wasn’t part of the planning area map, except for Hansen Island.”
The affected region in the new Nanwakolas land agreement extends from Port Hardy to Comox on eastern Vancouver Island, and a broad swath of the adjacent coast that includes Bute Inlet, Knight Inlet and north to Cape Caution. Also included are the Kliniklini and Homathko River watersheds, where large run-of-river hydro projects have been proposed.
Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong said the agreement affects up to $6 billion worth of power projects, but Smith said the specifics are confidential due to discussions with private power developers.
The province has agreed to pay $2.26 million to the Nanwakolas Council to implement the agreement and build capacity to issue permits for construction.
Rick Jeffery, president of the Coastal Forest Products Association, said the agreement will help companies work out their own logging agreement on the entire traditional territory.
“It’s very hard for us to go into capital markets and raise money to rebuild mills or fund operations if you don’t have any certainty on the land base because of First Nations issues, so this is very positive,” Jeffery said.
Smith said the extension gives the Nanwakolas group certainty going into the 2013 provincial election, because it is a contract with the provincial Crown that continues regardless of who forms a government.
Cranmer, who was asked to coordinate the cultural aspect of Monday’s ceremony, brought several singers with him, including sons Eli and Tyler. The signing ceremony was also attended by Paddy Walkus, representing the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nations.
“It was quite a good ceremony,” said Cranmer. “We set up right off the rotunda, and it was quite an impressive sound with three drums and the young singers.”
With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press