On the road to reconciliation: Ahousaht negotiations delayed by provincial election

Denise Titian, October 14, 2020

Ahousaht Tyee Ha’wilth Maquinna, Lewis George (centre), walks next to Jolene Dick during the BC Cabinet and First Nations Leaders’ Gathering on Nov. 6, 2019 in Vancouver. During the gathering Ahousaht chiefs and elected councilors informed provincial officials of the First Nation’s intention to begin reconciliation negotiations. (Province of B.C. photo)

Ahousaht, BC — 

The Province of British Columbia was set to begin negotiating a new relationship with Ahousaht in early October, but Premier John Horgan called a snap election forcing a delay in talks with the First Nation.

Elected Chief Greg Louie told Ha-Shilth-Sa that Ahousaht was not upset that negotiations would be on hold until after the election on Nov. 19.

“This provides us with an opportunity for our team to do more work in preparation for future meetings,” Louie stated.

On Orange Shirt Day, Sept. 30th Premier Horgan said in a media release, “We all share the responsibility of reconciliation. Today we recognize and name the harmful legacy of residential schools and systemic racism to Indigenous peoples, and honour the resilience of survivors and communities.”

Under the NDP-Green government, B.C. is the first province in Canada to pass legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The province also established a long-term agreement to guarantee 25 years of revenue-sharing with First Nations and is the only province to fund on-reserve housing.

Chief Louie said that the parties had been preparing for reconciliation negotiations for several months.

“Last November Maquinna (Ahousaht Tyee Ha’wilth Lewis George) told them (provincial government) that he’s ready for reconciliation negotiations,” said Louie.

Ahousaht put together a team of advisors that consist of both hereditary chiefs and elected council members. In addition, two negotiators have been named: Greg Louie and Tyson Atleo.

Louie stated that negotiations would have moved forward earlier if the pandemic hadn’t struck.

The plan was for the teams to meet weekly to discuss topics of interest like health, education, economic development, youth and elders. They had hoped to reach an agreement of some form in December 2020.

According to information from the provincial government, it is their vision to reach agreements with First Nations that are mutually beneficial and close the socio-economic gap that separates Indigenous peoples from other British Columbians.

A broad range of agreement types can contribute to achieving reconciliation and creating economic opportunities for First Nations. What topics will be up for discussion?

“Everything,” said Louie.

He estimates there are more than 45 topics of interest to discuss including health, education, homelessness, youth and elder programing.

Louie says the negotiating teams will meet at locations outside of Ahousaht every two weeks until Dec. 20, 2020. The meetings will be held in-person in a large ballroom where people can be properly spaced according to pandemic safety advice.

Louie anticipates that come Dec. 20 the teams will have created a framework agreement.