Union and Huu-ay-aht pledge forest sector co-operation

Anacla, BC

More harvestable timber along with more family-supporting forest sector jobs are expected through an agreement between Huu-ay-aht First Nations and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937.

Union local management and HFN leaders signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Feb. 18, committing to work together to ensure “undercut volume” within Tree Farm Licence 44 (TFL 44) is allocated to the First Nation while developing training and jobs in the forest industry.

In essence, the two pledge to work together in the interest of reconciliation by increasing employment, Indigenous participation and harvesting opportunities in the region’s forest sector. The union also commits to advance reconciliation with First Nations on TFL 44 and — if the undercut volume goes to HFN — to provide job security, training and other benefits for USW members.

Tree farm licences are an area-based form of provincially controlled tenure, granting exclusive rights to licensees to harvest, manage and conserve forest. Much of TFL 44 — 232,000 hectares of forest land east of Alberni Inlet — lies within traditional Huu-ay-aht territory.

Despite increased participation in the industry by Huu-ay-aht workers since the mid-1990s, HFN’s historic focus on the logging business and a $36-million investment in the forest sector in 2020, only one Huu-ay-aht is a USW member. The number will jump by 10 in a pilot project over the next year and eventually grow to more than 50 workers through a long-term plan outlined in the MOU.

Collaboration can bring mutual benefits for a stronger future with the ability to advance reconciliation, said Chief Counsellor Robert Dennis Sr.

“Signing the memorandum of understanding is really a strong signal that both Huu-ay-aht and United Steelworkers are ready to work together and benefit their respective members,” he said.

Undercut volume or “undercut carry forward” refers to harvestable timber included in a TFL’s annual allowable cut but left unharvested. In the case of TFL 44, the current licensee has undercut. There is no guarantee the undercut volume will be awarded to HFN’s Huumiss Ventures.

“It’s certainly our intent to make an application,” Dennis said.

While not legally binding, an MOU formally recognizes conditions mutually agreed upon, in this case stipulating:

  • A commitment to continue harvesting the undercut volume with a USW certified workforce;
  • A long-term plan to create 50-plus well-paid, long-term USW jobs on TFL 44 for Huu-ay-aht citizens and other First Nations citizens within TFL 44;
  • A pilot project to place 10 Huu-ay-aht workers in USW jobs with TFL 44 woodlands contractors over the next 12 months; and
  • A long-term conditional job-creation and training plan if TFL 44 undercut is awarded to Huu-ay-aht, including retirement incentives, workforce training, preferential hiring and other considerations.

Dennis said the signing also acknowledges USW’s commitment to respecting Huu-ay-aht values within the Ḥahuuli of the Huu-ay-aht Ḥaw̓iiḥ (Huu-ay-aht traditional territory) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Huu-ay-aht’s three sacred principles — hishuk ish tsawalk (everything is one), uu-a-thluk (taking care of) and iisaak (utmost respect) — are included among MOU conditions.

“USW’s commitment to reconciliation and recognition of the Maa-nulth Treaty demonstrates a respect for our citizens, current hereditary (Ḥaw̓iiḥ) and elected councils, and honours the generations that came before us,” said Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters. “Today’s announcement signals another step toward healing and creating a brighter future for present and future generations.”

Local 1-1937 represents unionized forest sector workers throughout coastal B.C. Brian Butler, president of the local, said this is the first time the 6,100-member local has signed such an understanding.  

“Over time, USW members have been impacted by the loss of harvesting opportunities, and we are confident that as we continue to build our relationship with Huu-ay-aht, we will not only advance our members’ interests, we will expand our joint interests in the Alberni Valley forest sector,” Butler said.

“I know that Chief Dennis has a vision for their people that works with our own vision for our own members,” he added. “They are looking to create good, well-paying jobs for people to draw them back to the community and we are very supportive.”

In March 2020, Huumiis Ventures LP acquired additional shares for a majority stake in TFL 44 and a seven percent share in the Alberni Pacific sawmill from Western Forest Products (WFP). Part of that deal grants Huumiis the option of buying additional shares and, potentially, a majority interest in the mill. Reconciliation and forestry revitalization were also emphasized in that transaction, building on a reconciliation protocol HFN and WFP signed in 2018.

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