The federal government and the Pacheedaht First Nation celebrated an agreement Wednesday to return stewardship control over territory taken without permission to create B.C.’s world-renowned Pacific Rim National Park.
Parks Canada and the Pacheedaht signed a deal returning land use and stewardship rights for a 2.6-hectare stretch of shoreline known as ?A:?b?e:?s, or Middle Beach, as a step in the treaty settlement process.
In 1988, Canada took the key coastal tract connecting the Pacheedaht’s two main reserves near Port Renfrew without formal consultation or recognition of the First Nation’s rights to govern its traditional territory for the national park — 50,000 hectares of land and ocean along western Vancouver Island in the traditional territories of nine Nuu-chah-nulth Nations.
Park regulations also prohibited the Pacheedaht from managing or harvesting resources within its boundaries.
Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones called the beautiful beach bridging the nation’s two main reserves the community’s “missing link.”
The agreement is an important step toward restoring care and use of lands at Middle Beach to the nation before a treaty with the federal government is finalized, Jones said at a press conference.
“The nation hasn’t owned this land for many, many years,” he said.
“We're very, very grateful that we're moving in this direction of ownership of our lands through Parks Canada.”
The Pacheedaht and the federal government have been involved in treaty negotiations since 1996. In 2019, the federal government recognized Middle Beach as treaty settlement lands and agreed to transfer them from Parks Canada before negotiations are concluded.
Pacheedaht First Nation regains rights to steward its “missing link” after Middle Beach was taken by Canada without consent to create Pacific Rim National Park along western Vancouver Island.
The federal government stole land and severed the culture and identities of Indigenous Peoples rooted to their land for more than 100 years, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree said in a press statement.
“With the signing of this agreement, we begin to reverse this act of violence as the stewardship of the land … is given back to Pacheedaht First Nation.”
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, showcasing long sandy beaches and magnificent temperate rainforests, includes the internationally renowned ecotourism hot spots of Long Beach, the West Coast Trail and the Broken Group Islands — a kayaking mecca in Barkley Sound.
Middle Beach is next to the West Coast Trail entrance near Port Renfrew.
“Many, many visitors come and visit our territory or get away from their day-to-day lives. It's a different feeling being on the West Coast and our beautiful beach,” said Jones, adding the Pacheedaht don’t have concrete plans for Middle Beach and are still exploring what “the feeling of ownership looks like.”
“We may think about some form of tourism opportunity that can benefit not just our people, but also local Port Renfrew residents, which can create some longer-term employment,” he said.
Pacheedaht members and those from the neighbouring Huu-ay-aht and Ditidaht First Nations work as Guardians to maintain the West Coast Trail and protect the territory and visitors. However, Jones said he’d like to expand the nation’s role in co-managing the park within its territory with sister nations and the federal government.
“There’s definitely thoughts and visions on how … we get more involved,” he said, adding one example might be creating a traditional name for the West Coast Trail.
More than 90 per cent of federal lands, nearly all of which have been traditionally used and cared for by Indigenous Peoples, are administered by Parks Canada. It now strives to work collaboratively with Indigenous Peoples, the federal agency said in a statement.
Co-operative boards that include First Nations members make decisions on management issues in their territories in Pacific Rim Park, said Dave Tovell, an acting superintendent with Parks Canada.
For the last year, Parks Canada has been working with the three nations to craft a long-term plan for the West Coast Trail, Tovell said.
“We are truly co-developing a management plan together right from the get-go.”
The Crown-Indigenous Relations minister acknowledged the Pacheedaht treaty process has lasted more than a quarter-century. While the end is in sight, there are still important issues that need to be resolved at the treaty table, Anandasangaree said.
In the meantime, Middle Beach will be managed under the full control of the Pacheedaht, he stressed.
“This is about the future of the young people, the young generation. It's about building [a] present and future that's better than the past,” he said.
“The transfer is very symbolic. It recognizes what's ahead to assure this community that we are on the right path.”
Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer