As part of a $36.2-million transaction with Western Forest Products, the Huu-ay-aht are set to gain majority interests in a massive section of Crown land south of Port Alberni, with a partial ownership of Western’s only remaining sawmill in the city.
Announced on March 16, the pending deal gives Huumiis Ventures, a limited partnership that is wholly owned by the First Nation, a 51 per cent stake in Tree Farm Licence 44. The acquisition would follow the Huu-ay-aht’s purchase of a seven-per-cent interest in TFL 44 a year ago for $7.2 million. The new arrangement with Western is worth $35.2 million, giving the Vancouver Island First Nation’s Huumiis Ventures a majority ownership interest in the tree farm licence.
All of these transactions are subject to approval from Huu-ay-aht members and the provincial government. The deal is expected in close this summer.
TFL 44 is a 232,000-hectare section of land east of the Alberni Inlet, with some portions west of Port Alberni. Tenure over the licence entails harvest rights and management of the forest land.
Much of TFL 44 covers the Huu-ay-aht’s traditional territory. This recent arrangement empowers the First Nation to have greater control over the land it has called home for countless generations.
“This is an important step to gain more control over the ḥahuułi of the Huu-ay-aht Ḥaw̓iiḥ,” said Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Derek Peters), in a joint statement released March 16. “Our sacred principles of ʔiisaak (utmost respect), ʔuuʔałuk (taking care of), and hišuk ma c̕awak (everything is one), will guide us as we create more opportunities and wealth for our nation in a way that protects our resources for present and future generations.”
Like many West Coast First Nations, the Huu-ay-aht have felt the effects of historical logging in its territory – industrial activity that eliminated most of the Sarita watershed by 1997. Now $5 goes towards Sarita watershed renewal for every cubic metre harvested by forestry operations on Huu-ay-aht treaty settlement land.
Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. foresees the pending acquisition by Huumiis will better manage the Huu-ay-aht’s forest for future generations.
“This agreement will enable Huu-ay-aht to have more jurisdiction over our ḥahuułi, strengthen the long-term sustainability of the forest sector in the Alberni Region, provide strong environmental stewardship that aligns with Huu-ay-aht’s forestry guiding principles, and create more opportunities for First Nations, including our citizens,” he said.
The deal would bring a long-term fibre agreement that will continue to supply for Western’s manufacturing operations, including the Alberni Pacific Division sawmill. This is Western’s only remaining sawmill in Port Alberni after closing its Somass operations in 2017.
Now the Huu-ay-aht are taking a growing interest in the mill. Huumiis is set to purchase a seven per cent stake in APD for $1 million, with the option for majority ownership if future negotiations allow.
In the aftermath of a seven-month-long strike from Western’s employees that cast the coastal forestry industry deeper into economic uncertainty, this recent acquisition pledges to bring more job opportunities for Huu-ay-aht citizens.
“Western is committed to the long-term success of this partnership, and we look forward to continuing to work towards our shared goal of revitalization of a forest sector that benefits everyone in the Alberni Region,” said Don Demens, Western’s president and chief executive Officer.
Building on a Reconciliation Protocol Agreement signed by Huu-ay-aht and Western in 2018, the TFL 44 arrangement is also designed to bring “economic opportunities” for 13 other First Nations that have territories in the areas of Crown forest land. These include the Ditidaht, Tseshaht, Uchucklesaht and Hupacasath First Nations.