Modern treaties smooth development for some Canadian aboriginals

Tue Mar 31, 2015 1:24am EDT
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By Julie Gordon

PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia (Reuters) - In Sarita Bay, a remote cove on Canada's Vancouver Island, aboriginal-owned land used for decades by loggers is slowly being reimagined as a multibillion-dollar export terminal to ship liquefied natural gas to Asia.

Aboriginal groups in the West Coast province of British Columbia are often in the news for opposing major resource projects. But the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, who own the land where the plant would be built, have partnered with Steelhead LNG on the proposal.

Both parties say the alliance was facilitated by a so-called modern treaty reached in the past decade, which granted the Huu-ay-aht ownership over a swath of their traditional territory and jurisdictional powers.

"We wanted to open our doors to business," Huu-ay-aht councillor John Jack said of their 18-year effort to achieve treaty status. "We wanted the soft power of being in the boardroom."

"We weren't really able to have those kinds of relationships before self-government," he added.

It is a sentiment shared by other aboriginal communities with modern treaties, illustrating how such deals, though rare, are providing one model for fostering growth in poverty-hit communities and reducing conflicts over resource development.

Between 1701 and 1923, aboriginal people across much of Canada signed treaties giving up claim to their traditional lands. But in British Columbia, few signed on, leaving vast swaths of the province subject to land claims.

This has led to conflict when industry and aboriginals disagree over development on these contested lands.   Continued...

Huu-ay-aht councillor Jack Cook stands on beach in the aboriginal village of Anacla, British Columbia near to the site a proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal at Sarita Bay.  REUTERS/Julie Gordon