In spite of a concerted pressure campaign to sideline the Indigenous group's economic opportunities, this Vancouver Island people is an example of how reconciliation and development go hand-in-hand, writes Josiah Haynes.
Not long ago, two-thirds of Pacheedaht First Nation band members lived outside their ancestral land. Work was hard to find, and of its 163,000 hectares of land, all the Pacheedaht’s forested area was allocated to outside forestry operations through forest tenures and licences. Now, the Pacheedaht manage or co-manage a forest area with 140,000 cubic metres of annual cut, operate a sawmill, and are planning more forestry projects. Good forestry jobs are flowing into the community, so much so that Natural Resources Canada said:
“One of the Nation’s hurdles is having enough of their people living in the area trained to fill the positions and help build their resources.” There is optimism “that more Pacheedaht people will move back to the area as the forestry activities and other ventures grow and the Nation prospers.”
Small success begets great success. Back in 2010, the Pacheedaht were awarded Woodlot Licence 1957—forestry rights to an annual cut of 1,500 cubic metres near the community. The same year, Pacheedaht and Andersen Timber entered into a fifty-fifty partnership to purchase a 20,240-hectare portion of Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 25 in Jordan River, on traditional Pacheedaht territory. Now called TFL 61, the Pacheedaht and Andersen Timber formed one company to own the TFL tenure and another to manage it, providing an important stream of income and opportunity to the Nation.
Eight years later, in 2018, the Pacheedaht First Nation, the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-op, BC Timber Sales, and the Province of BC reached a new community forest agreement for the Qala:yit Community Forest. The agreement included an allowable annual cut of 31,498 cubic metres in about 8,000 hectares of Crown land.
“In partnership with the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative, BC Timber Sales and the Province, we are achieving our goal of greater resource management in our traditional territory,” said Chief Jeff Jones of the Pacheedaht First Nation.
Now, the Pacheedaht own and operate two forestry facilities, with a third on the way. They include a log sorting facility in TFL 61 and a sawmill in Port Renfrew, with plans to build a chipping facility in the community.
Beyond its forestry operations and partnerships, the Pacheedaht and BC signed a Forest Consultation and Revenue Sharing Agreement in 2017. Under the agreement, the First Nation receives a percentage of stumpage revenues from all timber cut by tenure holders on its traditional lands.
Chief Jones said: “Pacheedaht for a long time has been shut out from the financial benefits that the resources extracted from our Traditional Territory have bestowed upon corporations and the government of BC...We are pleased with the steps BC has taken to partially address this and with our progress to date to acquire forest tenure rights within our Territory. All will lead to the self-reliance and well-being of our people once again."
But success draws detractors.
Since August 2020, a handful of environmental activists largely from outside the Pacheedaht community have blockaded a logging road to Fairy Creek, within Pacheedaht territory. Another blockade was added near Bugaboo Creek, where six protests are organized remotely by a teenager in Washington State. Into the spring of 2021, the campaign continued to escalate with protesters defying both a court order order and COVID-19 rules to disrupt authorized work by the First Nation.
Camped near Port Renfrew, both groups attempt to stop Teal-Jones, a BC-based logging company, from building a road to the Fairy Creek watershed, where they believe the company may cut down old-growth cedars. Teal-Jones, however, has not applied for a cut-block in the Fairy Creek watershed.
Then BC Forest Minister Doug Donaldson noted that the Marbled Murrelet Wildlife Habitat Area already protects about two-thirds of the Fairy Creek watershed.
Logging is an essential part of the Pacheedaht First Nation's economy, and neither chief Jones nor the Band Council has offered support to the protests.
In fact, on April 12, 2021, the Nation issued a firmly worded statement that it does not welcome or support "unsolicited involvement or interference by others in our Territory, including third-party activism." Both Hereditary Chief Frank Queesto Jones and Chief Councillor Jeff Jones signed the statement.
Protecting old-growth forests on their territory is not an afterthought for the Pacheedaht. An abundance of old-growth cedars is essential for the nation to continue traditional practices, including building ocean-going canoes and totem poles. In 2005, the Nation developed the Pacheedaht Cedar Conservation Strategy, identifying the volume and size of cedar needed for traditional activities. The Nation took a long-term view in developing its cedar conservation strategy, as cedars take about 400 years to grow to the required size. The plan has received recognition and compliance from BC's government and all major forest licensees within Pacheedaht territory.
The strategy is just one example of the collaborative approach the Nation has adopted with such success.
For some time, the Nation has been in talks with the governments of BC and Canada on treaty negotiations. Before completing the BC Treaty Commission's stage four of six treaty implementation stages, the Pacheedaht signed an Incremental Treaty Agreement in 2013. The agreement provided the Nation "with transitional economic benefits in advance of a Final Agreement and is in the spirit and vision of the New Relationship."
In 2019, the parties reached an Agreement in Principle, completing the fourth stage of negotiations. Among other changes, the agreement in principle gives the First Nation "exclusive authority to determine, collect and administer any fees, rents or other charges, except taxes, relating to the harvesting of Forest Resources on...Pacheedaht Lands". It also includes plans for collaborative wildfire suppression and cost-sharing arrangements in addition to forestry studies, among other benefits, including greater Pacheedaht control over traditional lands and more opportunities for social and economic development.
According to the BC Treaty Commission's Annual Report for 2020, “Pacheedaht will have ownership of approximately 1,897 hectares of land transferred to the nation, including former reserves, and a capital transfer of approximately $19.72 million. The treaty will recognize and protect Pacheedaht’s inherent title and rights, establish how the First Nation’s laws interact with federal and provincial laws, recognize harvesting and resource rights throughout its territory, and establish the land, cash, and governance provisions of the treaty.”
The Pacheedaht First Nation is an example of how to combine reconciliation with local development. Theirs is a success story highlighting the opportunity to harmonize reconciliation and development and how the economic development of First Nations can progress responsibly and in good faith with federal and provincial governments.
Josiah Haynes is a Writing and Research Coordinator at the Resource Works Society.