CRD-Pacheedaht MOU highlights mutual service and development opportunities

CRD-Pacheedaht MOU highlights mutual service and development opportunities
Photo: Courtesy CRD/Pacheedaht First Nation Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
CRD CAO Ted Robbins, paaʔčiidʔatx̣ (Pacheedaht) First Nation elected Chief Jeff Jones and CRD Board Chair Colin Plant sign Memorandum of Understanding.

Nation to nation. Government to government. These are terms we have become familiar with in the context of reconciliation in Canada. What does it mean when a governing body, which is neither technically municipal nor provincial—let alone federal—comes into an agreement with a First Nation of 290 members to formally work together as equal partners?

The Capital Regional District (CRD) and paaʔčiidʔatx̣ (Pacheedaht) First Nation on Tuesday announced that they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizing their reciprocal government-to-government relationship.

The Tsawwassen First Nation was the first in BC to achieve a treaty under the BC Treaty Commission’s treaty process. Huu-ay-aht and Toqhaut First Nations are two of five First Nations to have signed the Maal-Nulth First Nations Treaty which came into effect in 2011. Unlike the Tsawwassen First Nation which has representation on the Metro Vancouver Board, and the Huu-ay-aht and Toqhaut First Nations that, similarly, have representation on the Alberni Clayoquot Board, the provincial government does not allow Pacheedaht leadership, as non-treaty representatives, to sit on the CRD board though it has been negotiating a joint treaty with Ditidaht and the provincial government since 1997. It is currently in Stage 5 of a six-stage process.

For this reason, the “government-to-government” relationship must be managed, by the CRD,  through an MOU. Despite what is an obvious asymmetry of economic and resource-leveraging power, the MOU makes Pacheedaht First Nation an equal partner in future decision-making. “paaʔčiidʔatx̣  (Pacheedaht peoples) have always been stewards of our lands, waters, and resources,” said elected Chief, Jeff Jones. “This MOU is the first of its kind signed by the CRD in recent years,” said paaʔčiidʔatx̣ (Pacheedaht ) “and will foster even greater trust and collaboration that have real importance in the daily lives of our people.”

“People of the Sea Foam”, Pacheedaht First Nation’s main community sits on one of its four reserves at the mouth of the Gordon River. In addition to their reserve lands, the traditional lands they have been using since before contact with settlers on Vancouver Island, extend from Point-No-Point, up the West Coast (including Pacheenah Bay) to Bonilla Point and from the mouth of the San Juan River to Todd Mountain.

Area has myriad tourism favourites

Its forests, land, rivers, mountains, and the ocean that cradles it are cherished among tourists and CRD residents alike. It’s clear from the MOU priorities that developing services and opportunities in the area will be of great economic and social benefit to the Nation and Port Renfrew residents and its visitors. To that end, the MOU sets out operational commitments on priority areas that the agreement identifies as being essential to the well-being of these communities.

Water is the first priority

Top of the list of practical, operational priorities in the MOU is water supply and sewage treatment infrastructure, then Port Renfrew’s official community plan (OCP), solid waste management, Juan de Fuca community, regional parks, and, finally, land use referrals.

The Port Renfrew water system is supplied from a single groundwater source, (Well PW#3), that pumps to a nearby water treatment facility. In 2016, Pacheedaht First Nation opened a new federally funded $3.7 million water treatment and distribution system. Up until then, community members had to buy bottled water in the face of frequent and long-lasting drinking water advisories.

The CRD currently operates a solid waste transfer station in Port Renfrew for residents. Operating costs are recovered by residents through their property taxes. Pacheedaht First Nation was paying 40% of the operating costs under an agreement with the CRD to process solid waste at the same station.

‍Building a town centre is also a priority

The MOU cites the Port Renfrew Official Community Plan (OCP), the Juan de Fuca community, and regional parks as other reference points of achievement for development and growth in areas connected directly to Pacheedaht lands. A key aim of Port Renfrew’s OCP is “to encourage growth and development based upon the capacity of the community’s infrastructure capabilities” and cites the creation of a well-designed town centre, the identification of potential land sites for industrial activities (mainly for forestry-related activities and manufacturing and storage) as priority objectives.

Port Renfrew’s OCP also calls for the development of a network of community walkways and hiking trails in conjunction with provincial and regional trail systems that would eventually be tied into the West Coast Trail, Breakwater Trail, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trails, and the proposed Kludahk Trail. The West Coast Trail is located on the territory of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidatht, and Pacheedaht First Nations.

Land Use referrals are another key interest of the MOU. It’s not clear, from the announcement, whether that refers to development, logging, zoning, taxation, or other considerations.  What is clear is that economic development is a key and motivating principle of the agreement.

CRD wants more collaboration with First Nations

CRD Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Andy Orr shared with Capital Daily that one of the district board’s strategic priorities “is to hear more from First Nations as to how they would like the CRD to approach reconciliation. Another board priority is to collaborate with First Nations to build and strengthen new processes for respectful, reciprocal government-to-government decision-making and service delivery that uplift Indigenous self-determination.”

CRD Chair Colin Plant expressed his “hope that this MOU paves a path for more partnership opportunities between the CRD and other First Nations in the region.”

By Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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