The Pacheedaht First Nation calls it a “missing link” — a section of important shoreline taken by the federal government in the 1980s — being given back to the Nation for its stewardship.
“We’re very excited about what the working towards of what the feeling of land ownership looks like down the road,” said Pacheedaht First Nation Chief Jeff Jones.
In the ’80s, the federal government took more than two and a half hectares of Pacheedaht waterfront without consultation. The area is called ?A:?b?e:?s (phonetic: aah/bee/ay/s), known as ‘Middle Beach’ near Port Renfrew.
The feds took the land to fold into the making of the Pacific Rim National Park.
As a result, for the past 35 years, the Pacheedaht have lived with their main reserves divided, without the ability to harvest in the area.
But on Wednesday, in a ground-breaking agreement, the feds returned the use of ?A:?b?e:?s back to the Nation in advance of a treaty settlement.
“This is, as I’ve indicated, an important step in the treaty-making process,” said Gary Anandasangaree, federal minister of crown-Indigenous relations, speaking about how close they are to coming to an agreement.
“In many ways, this is a recognition of how much we’ve advanced in the work and how close we are.”
The move is the feds making good on their promise to the Nation in their 2019 treaty negotiations process.
As part of the Pacheedaht First Nation 2019 Agreement in Principle, the Government of Canada acknowledged the ?A:?b?e:?s lands as Pacheedaht First Nation treaty settlement lands and agreed to transfer them from Parks Canada to the Nation upon completion of ongoing treaty negotiations.
A symbol of goodwill, the move gives the Nation custodianship or stewardship of the land — but not official ownership, yet.
The full land transfer will happen later in the treaty process.
Details still need to be worked out, but when the land is officially returned, the Nation will look at expanding its campground or building something tourism-related.
“Something for the Pachedaaht people and those living in Port Renfrew that can create some longer-term employment opportunities that we don’t have here,” said Chief Jones.
Meanwhile, as the 25-year-long treaty negotiations continue, the Nation is looking toward building a present that’s better than the past.