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Tla-o-qui-aht celebrate new reserve

TOFINO, British Columbia – “It’s a ground-breaking ground breaking,” beamed Tla-o-qui-aht council member Elmer Frank as he dug a ceremonial shovel into the dirt of his First Nations’ new reservation.

“The development of Ty Histaniis is unique because it’s the first time the Government of Canada has allowed lands to come out of a park, it’s the largest single funding Indian Affairs has ever done in the Pacific Region, and it returns a part of our homeland almost 100 years after it was taken from us.”

With the sands of Long Beach and the open Pacific Ocean as the backdrop, the sounds of ancient songs mixed with the smell of barbequing salmon as the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations joined with representatives from the Government of Canada to celebrate the Ty Histaniis Reclamation Project July 15.

“We are very happy to be celebrating this moment with the Government of Canada who have partnered with us on this historic project and a brighter future for our Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations,” said Chief Councillor Francis Frank. “This 86.4 hectare, $26.9 million project means the beginning of the end of housing and social problems for our nation, as we look towards a new era of hope for our children and grandchildren.”

Photo by David Wiwchar

Chief Wickanninnish and Elder Nellie Joseph admire a carving of their late grandfather, Chief Joseph, which will be placed at the entrance of the new Ty Histaniis Reserve.

Located beside Tla-o-qui-ahts overcrowded Esowista Reservation, more than 160 homes will soon be built at Ty Histaniis along with specially-designed elders housing, playgrounds and health, government and recreation centers.

Ty Histaniis is a Nuu-chah-nulth word meaning a place to anchor whales, and has been an important place for the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations for thousands of years.

“Our ancestors lived on these lands for countless generations,” said TFN Elder Tom Curley. “In 1911 the Indian commissioner failed to include these lands as Indian reserve and Chief Joseph fought to have this area included while many families continued to live there. Then, when the Second World War broke out, the Canadian military built an airbase and a training center here, so they asked our people to move out of the way, but they said they’d give the land back after they finished with it. But after the war it became a park and the land seemed locked up forever.”

Tears welled in Curley’s eyes as he listed off dozens of names of hawiih (chiefs) and community leaders who died before seeing their dreams come to fruition. “Our focus has always been the future generations, and achieving things that will benefit them. It’s comforting to me to know I don’t have to worry anymore.”

Despite decades of difficult negotiations Tla-o-qui-aht leaders refused to give up, and in May 2000, the First Nation launched a protest as then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien arrived in the tiny town of Tofino to announce the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Negotiations began shortly thereafter.

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“This had never been done before. It took an Act of Parliament to remove lands from the park,” said Nanaimo-Alberni Member of Parliament James Lunney. “The government is keen to collaborate with First Nations on projects such as this, and I look forward to walking the road with you towards a bright new future for all Tla-o-qui-aht.”

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada contributed almost $27 million to the Ty Histaniis Reclamation Project – the largest single project funding allocation in the Ministry’s Pacific Region. Part of the funding comes from the Government of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, targeting shovel-ready projects.

“Contractor agreements are being finalized now, and as soon as the documents are signed, clearing will begin,” said TFN Housing Manager Moses Martin.

Ty Histaniis will have 160 homes, specialized elders accommodations, playgrounds, a Health Centre, Governance Centre, Recreation Centre, cemetery, fire/rescue station, geothermal pump station, water and utilities building.

Buildings will be constructed to LEEDS Gold standards, power lines and service lines will be run underground, and landscaping will use only native plants including: Western Red Cedar, Fir, Dogwood, Pacific Serviceberry, Kinnickinick, etc. Cleared debris will be shredded and used for landscaping and playground materials.

More than half the 1,000 Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations members live away from home due to a lack of available housing and economic opportunities in the Clayoquot Sound area.

Overcrowding has been a driving issue, as many people have been forced to live in tents, small trailers and moldy, poorly constructed homes. Currently, 260 Tla-o-qui-aht members live in 56 houses on the Opitsit Reserve on Meares Island, and 220 members live in 42 houses on the Esowista Reserve.

Contractors will be encouraged to train Tla-o-qui-aht members in various building trades to build capacity within the First Nations.

Given the location of Ty Histaniis within Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations have agreed to not construct a hotel or resort on the lands, and maintain a treed buffer between Ty Histaniis and beach areas.

More than 200 people attended a celebration of the Ty Histaniis Reclamation Project, complete with sod-turning, ribbon cutting, and the unveiling of a carved statue commemorating Chief Joseph’s efforts almost a century ago.

“Our leaders have been trying to get these lands returned to us since 1911, and I’m very excited that we’re finally finishing the work our grandparents started,” Martin said. “We’re celebrating what has been a long wait for our people, and today we have come one step closer to having equal living standards and being on equal grounds with other Canadians.”