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Groundbreaking Vancouver Island First Nations celebrate 10 years of having a voice

Alberni-Clayoquot was B.C.’s first regional district to welcome Indigenous members

On April 1, 2012, the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) made history by becoming the first regional district in British Columbia to include First Nations representatives as full voting members on their board, with Huu-ay-aht First Nations and Ucluelet First Nation joining the table.

On April 13, 2022, the ACRD board celebrated the 10th anniversary of this milestone.

Huu-ay-aht and Ucluelet joined the ACRD board in 2012, as part of a provision that was outlined in the Maa-nulth Treaty they signed in 2011. Two other members of the Maa-nulth Treaty, Uchucklesaht and Toquaht, joined the board in 2014 and 2016, respectively. The final Maa-nulth tribe, Kyuquot/Checleseht First Nations, joined the Strathcona Regional District in 2021.

Chuck McCarthy, president of Ucluelet First Nation, said the agreement has given their nation an opportunity to have discussions at a higher level of government.

“It’s nice for us to be participating in what’s happening in our region,” said McCarthy. “We’ve always been told under INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) what to do and when you can do it. To participate in this level, having a say in what goes on in our region—I see that as the most important thing.”

Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr., who is a survivor of the residential school system, says he has always been “really appreciative” of the ACRD board’s support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“There’s a lot of areas that we have to work on, in terms of reconciliation,” he said. One of these, he added, is economic reconciliation. In the last few years, Huu-ay-aht has been gaining more ownership of the tree farm licence on its traditional territory.

“A lot of our people depend on a living from forestry,” he said. “The opportunity is there if we do it right. To do it right, we have to manage the forest in a really good way, including old growth.”

ACRD directors and CAOs—both past and present—offered words of congratulations on the anniversary. Several people evoked the image of a canoe, with all members of the board “paddling together.”

Sproat Lake director Penny Cote, who has been on the ACRD board for 17 years, said the day that First Nations joined the board was the “biggest event” of her career.

“Being able to be here 10 years later and seeing the progress that’s happened is just remarkable,” she said.

But the work isn’t done yet, she added. At this time, provincial legislation says that only treaty nations can join regional districts as voting board members, but there are six other First Nations with territory in the regional district that are not treaty nations (Ditidaht, Hupacasath, Tseshaht, Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht).

“There’s other First Nations that we are neighbours to that we would like to see also coming to this table and being voting members and being part of the voice,” said Cote.

Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who also attended the meeting on April 13, agreed. He called ACRD board members “trailblazers” in terms of changing governance models and reconciliation.

“It’s just enriched the lives of all people that live in our communities,” said Johns. “This is a great day to reflect back on 10 years of hard work, and the important work that still needs to be done. There are many communities not represented at the table.”

ACRD chair John Jack, who is also a member of Huu-ay-aht First Nations, acknowledged several past leaders who were instrumental in bringing about this change, including the late ACRD chair Glenn Wong, former Long Beach director Tony Bennett and former Beaufort director Mike Kokura.

He added that the ACRD and other regional districts are coming together to work with the provincial government to change the legislation, which will allow non-treaty nations to join regional districts.

“This board, as well as others across British Columbia, are dedicated to ensuring that we walk the path of reconciliation and inclusivity for First Nations, even if they don’t have treaties,” said Jack. “This is something that we see as a fundamental weakness in our governance. We’re not complete until all 10 of the nations within the regional district boundaries have the option to join, and can join if they want to.”

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