The We Wai Kai First Nation is frustrated with the lack of progress in an agreed-upon land transfer from the Province of B.C.
In 2019, the We Wai Kai First Nation signed an incremental treaty agreement with the province to allow the transfer to them of 3,000 hectares of forest lands north and west of Campbell Lake.
“It was meant to give us some of our land back, but also give us some economic benefits as well,” said We Wai Kai Chief Ronnie Chickite. “We were told that this was going to take a year to transfer over, and we thought ‘OK perfect.’”
“Well it’s been three and a half years … and we don’t even have one parcel of land back.”
Chickite says the land was to be used for a selective logging operation that could have brought in millions in revenue for the First Nation that is seeing growing membership.
“We missed out in the biggest forest value or market probably in history in the last couple years as everything was skyrocketing and record prices,” he said. “We’re not even able to harvest our cut allowance that we were we’re going to do.”
Incremental treaty agreements were designed to let both First Nations and the province enjoy some benefits of a final treaty agreement before getting to that final stage. They’re used to built trust among the parties, create incentives to reach further milestones and provide certainty when it comes to land and resources, according to the B.C. Government website.
However, to Chickite and the We Wai Kai, that certainty isn’t there.
“It’s kind of sounds like the same old thing over and over again. Yeah, that’s what that’s how we’re feeling and we shouldn’t feel that way,” he said.
Chickite said that he recently came across a letter from three local Chiefs from the 1920s “talking about the depletion of forest resources.
“The government wrote us back saying ‘you’ll get re-compensated financially from the loss of your lands’ and that was 100 years ago,” he said. “When they tell us we’re going to get it back, is it going to be 100 years?”
Chickite says that the provincial staff they’ve been working with directly have been helpful, but it was “bureaucratic issues” that have led to the delays.
“It’s just the bureaucrats in the background who are just… I don’t want to ever say that someone’s racist, but it almost seems that way… We’re just we’re frustrated I guess.”
The We Wai Kai First Nation’s current population is about 1,200, with half living on-reserve and half off-reserve. Chickite says they are in a good position to help spread economic benefits to neighbouring Campbell River.
“We have lots of other land that we’re looking develop we have ideas that are going to benefit City of Campbell River,” he said. “These things will help us, like eventually, but I mean it’s just slowing us down.”