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B.C. extends aboriginal land agreement

'Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer speaks at ceremony to sign an agreement on resource sharing that runs until 2016.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

VICTORIA – Politicians and aboriginal leaders have signed a three-year extension to their ground-breaking deal for resource sharing on 4.5 million hectares of northern Vancouver Island and the adjacent coast.

At a signing ceremony at the B.C. legislature Monday, Nanwakolas Council president Dallas Smith said other B.C. First Nations were skeptical of his group entering into forestry, mining and hydroelectric power deals without having treaties.

But it was established in 2007, the number of Nanwakolas members participating has grown from six to 10, and similar "strategic engagement agreements" have been signed around the province. The agreement is leading towards a formal deal with coastal forest companies, a proposed coal mine and several proposed independent power projects, Smith said.

The affected region extends from Port Hardy to Comox on eastern Vancouver Island, and a broad swath of the adjacent coast that includes Bute Inlet, Knight Inlet and north to Cape Caution. Also included are the Kliniklini and Homathko River watersheds, where large run-of-river hydro projects have been proposed.

Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong said the agreement affects up to $6 billion worth of power projects, but Smith said the specifics are confidential due to discussions with private power developers.

The province has agreed to pay $2.26 million to the Nanwakolas Council to implement the agreement and build capacity to issue permits for construction.

Rick Jeffery, president of the Coastal Forest Products Association, said the agreement will help companies work out their own logging agreement on the entire traditional territory.

"It's very hard for us to go into capital markets and raise money to rebuild mills or fund operations if you don't have any certainty on the land base because of First Nations issues, so this is very positive," Jeffery said.

Two more communities, the 'Namgis and We Wai Kai, signed on to the agreement for the first time. Their asserted traditional territory adds another 1.1 million hectares.

Smith said the extension gives the Nanwakolas group certainty going into the 2013 provincial election, because it is a contract with the provincial Crown that continues regardless of who forms a government.

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