PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia - The small Huu-ay-aht First Nation is
locked in a giant battle with forest company Brascan and the British
The Huu-ay-aht First Nation, whose traditional territory surrounds the
village of Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island, contains some of
the richest forestlands on the British Columbian coast. For the past month,
the 580-member First Nation has been fighting for a role in forest
management it claims is rightfully its own.
According to Chief Councillor Robert Dennis, litigation was launched as
soon as Canadian company Brascan purchased forest products giant
Weyerhaeuser's assets in the coastal forest region, as forestry agreements
negotiated over many years with the First Nation "were thrown out the
window." The court confirmed Huu-ay-aht's interests in the land and urged
negotiated accommodation agreements. Despite the court's decision, logging
Huu-ay-aht Ha'wiih (Chiefs) and 30 supporters blocked access to the
provincial Ministry of Forests office in nearby Port Alberni during the
morning of July 6, which eventually attracted the attention of British
Columbia's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Tom Christensen, who promised to
meet with Huu-ay-aht on the condition they do not embark on illegal
According to Dennis, numerous provincial and federal court decisions
confirm the existence and importance of Aboriginal title and rights in
forestlands, and Huu-ay-aht want their rights accommodated through revenue
sharing agreements. "They are making $30 per cubic meter, while we are only
being offered $0.32 per cubic meter in stumpage," he said. Dennis believes
a revenue sharing of 10 percent of the stumpage fee is fair. Instead of
$0.32/cubic meter, they want $3/cubic meter. This would allow Huu-ay-aht to
finance its social programs and economic development plans.
"We want a fair, reasonable and just consultation process; we have
constitutionally protected rights," said Huu-ay-aht Ha'wiih Tom Happynook.
"We want logging in our territory to be sustainable. They're raping and
pillaging our land and we're getting nothing."
The day before the protest in Port Alberni, members of the Huu-ay-aht
Nation held a "Reclaiming our Territory Celebration," and invited chiefs
and leaders from neighboring nations to witness the erection of a new sign
proclaiming their ownership of the lands.
"We're here for a common cause," said Dennis. "Cedar is being extracted
from our territory at an exorbitant rate." His people believe, he
continued, that at the present rate there won't be enough cedar left behind
to meet the needs of their children.
"Huu-ay-aht Ha'wiih are telling you today that they are the stewards of the
land and as such will take responsibility and manage the lands the way they
want," he said.
"Approximately 13,000 truck-loads left our territory last year. They
pillage our resources to meet their needs; our priority is to replenish our
salmon stocks, restore our rivers and stabilize the clearcuts on the
hillsides that ruin salmon habitat," he said. "We're not against logging
and employment. We're against irresponsible management and we will start to
protect what we believe needs protecting."
The Huu-ay-aht First Nation has been involved in treaty negotiations with
the federal and provincial government for the past 12 years. Logging has
continued in Huu-ay-aht territory for more than a year without a
consultation or accommodation agreement.
Dennis advised the people to embark on a direct assertion campaign for
their Aboriginal title and rights. As loaded logging trucks waited nearby,
he said Huu-ay-aht people will be going into active logging areas and
selecting trees for their own uses. "We won in court and we want to benefit
from resource extraction and to be fairly consulted and accommodated," he
said. "If government and industry don't get the message we will shut down
logging when our Tyee Ha'wilth [head chief] Kleeshin gives us the word.
It's time to implement the court decisions that we win," he said.