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Island First Nations hope new forestry partnership will see economic development

First Nations on Vancouver Island say they hope to see more Indigenous involvement and economic development in forestry across following an agreement with Western Forest Products.

In an announcement Tuesday, the province said the agreement was reached between the Tlowitsis, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and K’ómoks First Nations, and Western. They say the Nations will acquire a 34 per cent interest in Tree Farm Licence 39 Block 2, buying in for $35.9 million and creating a limited partnership.

Na̲nwak̲olas Council president Dallas Smith says this gives the Nations direct control over approximately 157,000 hectares of forest land near Campbell River and Sayward. Smith adds they were able to secure funding from the province for the core funding combined with revenue from each of the Nations.

The negotiation process has been ongoing for over two years, according to Smith. Harvesting would be done by Western Forest Products as part of the deal, and part of the profit margins from harvesting will go the Nations.

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“One of the things that was really important to our Nations in this process was the impact on communities,” said Smith. “We wanted to make sure that we are growing a work and labour force and not subtracting from it.

“So, while job creation in our reserves and our communities is important, we also understand the importance of these jobs outside of the First Nations communities.”

Smith adds that is why they chose to collaborate with another organization, rather than do the operation on their own.

B.C. premier David Eby says the announcement is about increasing the role of First Nations as stewards of their territories and driving stronger communities and greater economic development on Vancouver Island.

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“Today’s announcement comes after a long period of time of seeing what doesn’t work. Conflict, court battles, division, racism, short-term transactional relationships that didn’t get us any further ahead,” said Eby.

For Smith, the agreement is also a significant step forward on the pathway to sustainable and effective resource management.

“For our communities, we’ve watched millions and millions of dollars – billions if you will – of resources come out of our territories and getting control of them has never been about the commodification of it,” said Smith.

“It’s never only been about the dollars. Economic reconciliation is vital in our path going forward but it can’t be at the cost of environmental stability.”

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Smith adds he hopes to see more evolution in the future of First Nations involvement in forestry across the province and on the Island.

K’ómoks First Nation Chief Ken Price, a registered professional forester, adds this is an important step towards a K’ómoks Treaty.

“This forestry partnership agreement reflects not only a significant and meaningful incremental step forward in our vision for economic well-being as a Nation, but also our vision for a K’ómoks Treaty with the provincial and federal governments,” said Chief Price.

“The partnership achieves one of the Winning Conditions of reaching a K’ómoks Treaty and K’ómoks has put significant resources into the work that has led up to this point.”

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The province adds the agreement has various closing conditions and Western and the Nations are working towards closing the acquisition in the first quarter of next year.

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