Nuu-chah-nulth Face the Future

There's a lot going on in Nuu-chah-nulth territory.

by Maggie Paquet

The Nuu-chah- nulth have occupied the west coast of Vancouver Island for many thousands of years, where they have lived self-sufficiently according to the principle of Hishukistsawalk: everything is one.

Only in this century have these people of the ocean and the forest seen the trees disappear and the fish vanish. Only in this century have the Nuu-chah -nulth not had control of how the rich resources of this bountiful area were used.

All this is about to change. Thirteen First Nations that live in Nuu-chah-nulth territory are poised at the brink of a better future. Some 6,700 Nuu-chah-nulth people are represented in treaty negotiations with the provincial and federal governments, and are currently at the Agreement in-Principle stage.

Foremost among these negotiations is the desire of the Nuu-chah-nulth to regain a say in how the trees are harvested, how much and when fish are caught, and who reaps the benefits of the resources in their territory. Through joint ventures and cooperative management, the Nuu-chah-nulth hope to achieve a simple, basic, and much-needed objective that will benefit all people living in the region: local control by local people with local knowledge.

Of the 13 First Nations that comprise the Nuu-chah-nulth territory,

four are in the Northern Region:
Ehattesaht, Ka:'yu:'k't'h/Che:k'tles7et'h' Mowachaht/Muchalaht, Nuchatlaht

five in the Central Region:
Ahousaht, Hesquiaht, Tla-o-qui-aht, Toquaht, Ucluelet; and

four in the Southern Region:
Hupacasath, Huu-ay-aht, Uchucklesaht Tseshaht.

Through treaty negotiations, they hope to achieve a regional fisheries management board. Joint management of the forests is also in the cards for the Nuu-chah-nulth.The Huu-ay-aht and First Nations in the Central Region have both signed interim measures agreements with the provincial government, in part to help prevent the environmental degradation of past forestry practices and in part to work together in restoration activities.

In Huu-ay-aht territory, there is much restoration work going on so that rivers such as the Sarita can again produce healthy numbers of salmon and steelhead. The Huu-ay-aht are also in the beginning stages of tourism development. Situated at the trail head for the West Coast Trail, they are working on developing the Pachena Bay Campground, a hatchery, a demonstration forest, and cultural facilities to be used by the many thousands of hikers and other visitors who annually visit their territory.

Last year, members of the Uchuckle saht First Nation found it nearly impossible to find chinook salmon in Henderson Lake, a lake that used to provide 70 pound chinook. It's the same all over the region. Of 138 chinook stocks that used to occur on Vancouver Island's west coast, 63 percent are considered at risk; the others are extinct. All this, they say, because of logging practices that didn't adhere to the principle of Hishukistsawalk: "All is One".

The Central Region First Nations have formed Ma-Mook Development Corporation. Ma-Mook means "working" in Nuu-chah-nulth. Ma-Mook is described as a non-profit organisation that has the authority, expertise, and capacity to break through barriers, seize opportunities, and achieve rewarding work for Nuu-chah-nulth people. In addition to building an economic base for Central Region First Nations, Ma-Mook will position itself to provide job and training opportunities.

A lot of good news is going on in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, and the Watershed Sentinel has been invited to write about it. We hope to have more to report in the next issue.

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[From WS August/September 1998]

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