Huu-ay-aht First Nations Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’ First Nations Toquaht Nation Uchucklesaht Tribe Ucluelet First Nation
Radio Interview - Treaty Benefits
Robert Dennis, Chief Councillor of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, joins Paul Vasey
CBC - On The Island - 7:15 AM June 19, 2007

Paul Vasey:

Next month members of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation will vote on a final treaty, a vote that could change their lives. The Huu-ay-aht is one of five first nations belonging to the Maa-nulth treaty group located on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Not too long ago, as you might know, members of one of the first nations in the Prince George area voted against a final agreement. Members there claimed they weren't well informed about the process. Well, the Huu-ay-aht leadership is trying to ensure that is not an issue in their vote. The Huu-ay-aht are holding information and discussion sessions for band members - in fact, had a meeting yesterday in Vancouver. They're having one tonight in Victoria. I'll give you the details of that in just a minute.

Robert Dennis is chief elected councillor for the Huu-ay-aht. He's my guest in the studio. Good morning and welcome.

Robert Dennis:

Thank you, Paul.

Vasey:

When is the vote?

Dennis:

July 28.

Vasey:

Now, if your members vote in favour of this, what comes next?

Dennis:

Well, what comes next [is] it'll go through another process where the B.C. government has to pass it in their Legislature, and then the feds have to pass it in the House of Commons.

Vasey:

Right. But if your people pass it, is it pretty well a done deal then?

Dennis:

No, it isn't. It isn't until those two other governments deal with it because that's what makes it a legal document, once it goes through those three steps.

Vasey:

What's your sense of whether or not the B.C. Legislature and parliament would approve it?

Dennis:

Well, my sense provincially is because we've been working together I think they would pass it. I get the same sense with the feds, having met with our MP, James Lunney, and also Chuck Strahl.

Vasey:

Now, if this treaty does go through, what would it mean to your band?

Dennis:

What it would mean is there would be a lot of changes, in my view. I guess the one and most important thing is that we will have control of our destiny. Whether we succeed or don't succeed, it'll be of our own doing. Right now we either fail or succeed based on what's given to us from the Indian Affairs branch through funding and governance structures.

What I see in the future is that the treaty provides us an opportunity to have more funding available to us. That enables us to do a lot more for our people than we do under the current system. It provides an opportunity for us to have more land, and it provides an opportunity to manage that land for the benefit of our people.

In addition, we'll be allocated resources, timber resources, providing many needed jobs in our community. We'll be provided allocations in the fishery, and again, providing domestic food for our people and also the opportunity to buy commercial opportunities and participate in the fishery economy that way.

Vasey:

I mean, it sounds like this would make a huge difference in the lives of your people.

Dennis:

Oh, it will. I mean, the mere fact of having the opportunity to determine your own destiny is huge all by itself. I've been chief councillor now for going on to 13 years. It's like pulling teeth trying to get things from the Department of Indian Affairs if you want to do something.

Now, let me give you an example. We want to log one of our reserves. We've been waiting three years to get a cutting permit. We keep going back and back, and meanwhile that's a lost revenue opportunity. We could have gotten that money and used it for needed programs, needed capital infrastructure and that kind of stuff.

Vasey:

What do you think...? I guess I'm after the sense of change, the shape of your community after such a treaty would pass - I mean, how different it would be for your people.

Dennis:

For me it's going to be different, I mean, you know, to actually get into a government environment where you're deciding what we're going to do, as opposed to waiting for what is the program initiative that Indian Affairs is going to come down with or what is the province going to come down with for the benefit of native people. So you kind of wait, and even when they announce them.... Let's say the Kelowna Accord, for example. That was a huge, exciting thing. But, in honesty, when would it have become a reality? We don't know that.

Vasey:

If all this goes as you would hope it does and the vote passes and the Legislature and parliament pass it, when would all this actually come into effect?

Dennis:

Well, we're looking into the future, probably around 2010 - in around that area. Yeah.

Vasey:

Now, some people obviously are not keen on treaties. In fact, Arthur Manuel was recently in Port Alberni talking about treaties - you know, people give up too many rights, too many opportunities by signing these treaties - urging people to walk away from treaties. What's your reaction to that?

Dennis:

Well, my reaction, first of all, number one, is the Huu-ay-aht issue. Our people in 1993 mandated the Huu-ay-aht to enter into the treaty process. It was a very large meeting when we [did] that. So we view it as a Huu-ay-aht issue.

One of the reasons we entered into treaties is under the system we are right now our rights are not there. We have to fight tooth and nail for those rights. So I look at it as we're regaining our rights rather than losing. I mean, I can give all kinds of examples of where our rights are eroded. We had to go to court on our herring issue, because we felt that commercial fishery was infringing on our aboriginal right to gather herring and herring eggs. We settled that out of court. But that's a case of where we were regaining our rights. So I don't quite buy into that argument.

Vasey:

I want to thank you very much for coming in this morning. A pleasure talking with you.

Dennis:

Thank you.

Vasey:

My guest has been Robert Dennis. He's the chief elected councillor of the Huu-ay-aht.