Friday, July 08, 2005


The mist gently rolled down the mountain side as the drizzle became a steady rain. Standing against the guide beam of a bridge over the Coleman Creek I witnessed the chiefs and elders of the Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation reaffirming the boundary of their territory which has been marked by this creek for thousands of years. They were met by chiefs and elders of other Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, who were welcomed and invited to join in a celebration.

On the road to Bamfield, at the Franklin junction to Carmanah and Sarita, massive ‘off-road’ logging trucks, fully loaded with old growth trees, came to a halt and shut down their engines during a portion of the ceremony. The territory is public land, managed by the BC Ministry of Forests, licensed to Brascan, logged by Hayes.

During the past twelve years Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation have been negotiating in good faith with the Province of BC while logging continued and over six million cubic meters of old growth timber were removed from their ancestral territory, where these people have lived for 10,000 years.

In 1991 the BC government began a process to settle treaties with First Nations. In most parts of Canada treaties had been signed prior to confederation but in BC no such documents or agreements exist. First Nations in BC have never surrendered their lands to the colonialist power of England or the Nation of Canada. In April 2000 Federal and Provincial governments signed the first BC treaty with the Nitsga people. At that time there was hope that many more treaties would soon follow. Then the BC Liberals came to power. No more treaties have been signed to date.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia heard Huu-Ay-Aht First Nation verses The Minister of Forests. On May 10, 2005 The Honourable Madam Justice Dillon ruled; “In this case. The government did not misconceive the seriousness of the claim or the impact of the infringement. It failed to consider them at all. The government acted incorrectly and must begin anew a proper consultation process based upon consideration of appropriate criteria. “

Madam Justice Dillon went on to state; “The level of potential infringement of rights to timber resources is severe given the harvest rate contemplated by third parties over the next five years.”

In her analysis Madam Justice Dillon refers to several recent rulings: Haida Nation v. BC(Minister of Forests) (2004), Taku River Tlingit First Nation v. BC(Project Assessment Director) (2004), Squamish Indian Band v. BC (Minister of Sustainable Resource Management) (2004), Gitxsan Houses v. BC(Minister of Forests) (2002)

There appears to be a pattern emerging with these court cases, which have all ruled in favour of First Nations, whereby the Judge orders the government in the province of BC to follow the rules of law. Negotiations continued, no changes were forthcoming, resources continued to be extracted, and big business continued to make lots of money. No treaties have been signed. Isn’t the government supposed to abide by the law?

“The process itself is to be judged on the reasonableness standard with the essential question being whether the government action viewed as a whole accommodates the collective aboriginal right in question.  The government’s process must be reasonable.”  Hall J.A. admonished in Musqueam Indian Band v. British Columbia (Minister of Sustainable Resources Management), 2005

Robert Dennis, Chief Councilor of the Huu-ay-aht, said; “We believe our non-native friends have a responsibility of phoning the government and saying: settle that issue....get on with fulfilling your legal responsibility...”

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