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B.C.’s First Woodlands License Means Economic Sustainability

Huuayaht First Nation of British Columbia became self-governing on April 1, and made history again on December 2 with the signing of a woodlands license that enables the 700-member tribe to harvest timber.

Self-government for British Columbia’s Huu-ay-aht First Nation might have started in April, but a big piece of it was added on December 2.

The 700-member Huu-ay-aht became the first tribe in B.C. to sign a First Nation woodland licence with the provincial government. The deal was consummated at the legislative buildings in Victoria last Friday.

The license “is an opportunity for greater involvement in the forest sector and helps us to build a self-sustaining community,” Huu-ay-aht chief councilor Jeff Cook said.

“This … licence gives Huu-ay-aht the ability to plan their future and build for longer-term economic certainty,” said provincial Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson.

There are other licenses in the pipeline, with further announcements forthcoming, Thomson told the Victoria Times Colonist.

According to a government news release, the 25-year license entitles the 700-member tribe to cut 70,000 cubic metres of timber per year within a 9,500-hectare area next to their treaty settlement land, which is 10 kilometres northeast of Bamfield on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The types of wood to be harvested include hemlock, balsam, cedar and Douglas fir. The logs will be marshalled at the tribe’s dry-land sort yard and stored at their booming ground before being sold by a third party.

The length of the license means stability.

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“We can now plan long term instead of piece-mealing it every year just trying to survive,” Cook said in a telephone interview.

The tribe also previously operated its forestry using a non-renewable forest license, which had to be renewed every year.

“The turnaround time was reasonable, but we had to divert significant resources to doing it every year, now we don’t have to,” tribal development corporation chair Joe Jack said.

The new deal also means more tribal jobs in the forestry. Fifteen Huuayaht members work in the forest industry.

“In time we want to more than double that,” Cook said.

The Huu-ay-aht are one of five tribes that are signatories to the Maa-Nulth Treaty. The tribes started self-government under terms of the treaty on April 1.

The license is part of a broader strategy to assemble the building blocks of an economy for the tribe, which also has an independent power project, tourism project and Parks Canada initiative on the go.

“Foresty is still the main engine that drives the tribe, though,” Jack said.

Here's video of signing day, with both provincial officials and First Nation leaders weighing in.