After more than five years of community consultations, research and government negotiations, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council released an historic land-use plan for their territory in 2005 which covers the heart of BC’s Central Coast, a region that has been the centre of environmental conflict for the past decade with environmentalists calling it the Great Bear Rainforest.
“The Heiltsuk Land Use Plan represents our vision of management for our territory. It will help us govern our territory as rightful landowners,” said Ross Wilson, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council in 2005. “We have never ceded title and rights to our land, and we expect the Province of British Columbia to respect this in their upcoming decision on wilderness protection and economic development in our territory.”
Several months after the Heiltsuk plan’s release the provincial government announced its decision on land-use that largely respected the Heiltsuk’s vision.
“It’s really historic that they’ve engaged in this process at a government-to- government level and clearly articulated their land-use vision and resource vision,” Gordon Goodman, a BC government spokesman, told the Vancouver Sun upon the plan’s release. “For us, it’s a very positive step so we can understand what we need to do in our planning process.”
The plan, titled For Our Children’s Tomorrows, called for the creation of “Natural and Cultural Areas” to protect pristine wilderness and Heiltsuk traditional use. In all other areas, economic development activities, including forestry, must be conducted according to the principles of ecosystem-based management (EBM) defined as “a strategic approach to managing human activities that seeks to ensure the co-existence of healthy, fully functioning ecosystems and human communities.”
Heiltsuk Territory encompasses about 16,770 square kilometres of land and an additional 19,000 square kilometers of near-shore and offshore areas extending to international waters. About 8,270 square kilometres or 49 percent of the land base is protected as Heiltsuk Natural and Cultural Areas.
“The recent Throne Speech set a goal to eliminate, within 10 years, the inequities plaguing First Nations and highlighted ‘the Crown’s legal and moral duty’ to consult on decisions impacting Aboriginal title and rights,” said Wilson. “I believe our land-use plan can be the foundation of a new relationship, which would recognize us as the original stewards of the land and resources, and key to economic development. Our plan could be a model for how First Nations, government, industry and environmental groups work together to balance human needs and environmental protection.”
The land-use plan provides general management direction for ten key resource sectors including cultural heritage, plants, forests, wildlife and biodiversity, hunting and trapping, beaches, fresh water, tourism, minerals and energy, and wilderness access. In all sectors, the Heiltsuk call for the conservation of cultural and natural resources, and Heiltsuk priority access to resources for cultural and sustenance use.
“Cedar is extremely important for our cultural survival, but we’ve witnessed over- harvesting of old-growth cedar in our territory. This must stop,” said Harvey Humchitt, a Hemas or hereditary chief. “The Heiltsuk need to be involved with the logging plans and development proposals in our territory. We want to see ecosystem-based management, not the industrial liquidation of our natural and cultural assets.”
The land-use plan’s release came shortly before a major announcement by the Province about wilderness protection on the B.C. coast. In January 2004, the Central Coast Land and Resource Management Planning (CCLRMP) table, consisting of representatives from communities, labour, environmental groups, tourism, forest companies and recreation interests, reached an unprecedented consensus on land-use recommendations for BC’s Central Coast.
Since then, environmental groups have raised tens of millions of dollars in conservation investments to finance sustainable economic development for First Nations and local communities in the region. In 2007, the federal government announced its funding contribution to the so-called Great Bear Rainforest Agreement, which included protection of over two million hectares of coastal temperate rainforest. The contribution secured an additional $60 million pledged by private Canadian and US donors, as well as $30 million promised by the BC government.
For seven years, Ecotrust Canada worked with the Heiltsuk Nation on their land-use planning vision and helped the First Nation implement a model for ecosystem-based management in their territory. Ecotrust Canada also worked with the Heiltsuk to begin their marine-use planning process.
A “living document,” the Heiltsuk Land Use Plan will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, as new information is gathered. It is not intended to set in stone a rigid collection of rules. Rather, it is a guide that is flexible and practical. Gvi’ilas, the Heiltsuk’s set of customary laws, serves as the paramount principle for managing resources. Other guiding principles, in order of priority, for land management include:
- Ensure conservation of natural and cultural resources
- Ensure Heiltsuk priority access to resources for cultural and sustenance use
- Enable appropriate Heiltsuk commercial and recreational use of resources
- Enable appropriate non-Heiltsuk commercial and recreational use of resources
- Cultural and Natural Areas are managed to maintain their natural and cultural values, while maintaining or enhancing opportunities for traditional use and minimizing adverse impacts on natural and cultural values. The areas will be kept largely in a natural or wilderness condition, although low-impact tourism and access may be permissible.
- Ecosystem-based Management Areas are managed according to EBM principles and practices. The areas provide appropriate opportunities for resource development while maintaining or enhancing opportunities for traditional use and minimizing adverse impacts on natural and cultural values.
Key Policy Statements
- Ecosystem-Based Management: Past resource management approaches have failed. Thus, the Heiltsuk support the guiding principles of EBM, believing they are consistent with Gvi’ilas, the Heiltsuk traditional way.
- Salmon Aquaculture: Fish farming adversely affects the health and long-term survival of wild Pacific salmon. Therefore, the Heiltsuk do not support salmon farming as it is currently practiced.
- Offshore Oil & Gas: The Heiltsuk have serious concerns regarding the safety and advisability of engaging in offshore oil and gas development and exploration, and therefore are not supportive of these activities in their territory.
- Old-growth Cedar: If industrial logging of old-growth cedar continues at the same rate as the past 15 years, there may be a future shortfall of large old-growth cedar for Heiltsuk uses. Thus, logging must be done cautiously to ensure that cedar is sustained forever.
- Protected Areas: Any federal or provincial government proposals for designation of new parks, conservancies, nature reserves or other legislated protected areas require consultation and co-management with the Heiltsuk Nation.
- Referrals & Consultation. Consultation is initiated through a formal written submission to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and shall be considered completed only when the Heiltsuk and other parties have reached mutual agreement.