A Vancouver Island First Nation is poised to blockade the highway between the town of Gold River and its port to logging traffic until it gets compensation for the use of its land.
Mowachaht/ Muchalaht First Nation (MMFN) has announced its intention to restrict access to the portion of Highway 28 that passes through Ahaminaquus Indian Reserve Number 12 (IR 12) to the logging company Western Forest Products (WFP) effective immediately.
“This act is in response to WFP’s continued and repeated trespass on MMFN IR 12, and the province’s failure to fairly compensate MMFN for the ongoing trespass,” said the Nation in the statement. “Since MMFN never approved or consented to WFP’s use of the road that crosses MMFN’s IR#12, WFP’s continued use of the road constitutes an act of trespass.”
MMFN said it has the “right to control use and access to its reserve lands.” According to its statement, ever since Highway 28 was built 50 years ago, it has been in trespass. It maintains the land has never been legally transferred to the province and it has not been paid a cent for the use of the road by the logging company.
The legal basis for this is section 18(1) of the Indian Act, which states that “reserves are held by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of the respective band for which they were set apart.” The Nation also stated that trespassing upon a reserve or part of a reserve is an offence under sections 30 and 31 of the Indian Act.
WFP uses the section of Highway 28 in question to bring fibre to its log sort. Much of this fibre is then offloaded onto barges destined for Asia.
“Millions of dollars worth of their business goes through this road through Gold River to the waterfront,” said Dorothy Hunt, MMFN lands manager who has been trying to negotiate a road use agreement with WFP and the provincial Ministry of Transportation.
Hunt said that the Mowachaht/ Muchalaht took the step to restrict access after trying to negotiate with the company “for many years.” However, it states WFP’s responses are “not feasible.” According to Hunt, WFP has not been willing to meet compensation demands and has been “pushing off” its responsibly onto the province.
“The Nation has been patient with the province and WFP but it has been a disjointed progress all along,” said Hunt. “WFP has to come to the table and be realistic about the Road Use Agreement with MMFN.”
In addition, WFP’s decision to change its operations in Gold River and contract work for Tree Farm Licence 19 outside the community was done without consultation or informing MMFN, Hunt said.
In an email, WFP spokesperson Babita Khunkhun said the company has been in ongoing discussions regarding the portion of Highway 28 that crosses IR #12 and is working in good faith to quickly resolve this complex issue.
She also said that the company values its relationship with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht and understands the desire of the Nation to resolve the issue.
Khunkhun also said that WFP is seeking clarity from the province on its position in relation to this road given it has been held out as a provincial highway.
“Like other businesses in the area, Western has relied upon the classification of the road as a provincial highway to invest in the region,” KhunKhun said.
“Highway 28 is a critical artery in the Gold River community, not just for Western, its employees and contractors, but also for community members, many of whom use the road daily to travel to and from work in various industries operating in the area. We are committed to continuing to work in good faith to achieve a fair resolution for everyone.”