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Natives to have big say in how park is run

Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun

Published: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

VICTORIA - Six of B.C.'s first nations will be given greater control over the operation and development of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, 62 square kilometres of protected sea and land in the Strait of Georgia that is under increasing development pressure.

The agreement, which will be signed Saturday between the federal government and the 6,000 members of the Hul'qumi'num First Nation, is part of a trend to extend the influence of natives within B.C. parks, many of which are in what the province describes as "asserted traditional territory" of the province's aboriginal peoples.

On Tuesday, the B.C. government also introduced an accord that will give the 'Namgis First Nation, located on Cormorant Island off Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, greater control of a similar sweep of geography comprising more than a dozen parks and protected areas on the northern tip of Vancouver island.

The agreements, which are part of a trend to try and weave first nations' treaty demands into the management of Crown parks, will give natives a say over everything from how to write signs in the parks to the placement of trails and campgrounds. It will also give natives an opportunity to integrate their traditional demands for aboriginal food harvests -- from digging beach clams to catching salmon to shooting deer -- within the tourist activities of the popular sites.

"It's basically about maintaining our people's connection to the land and showing respect," said Chief Robert Morales, lead negotiator of the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group.

Morales said that over the centuries both nature and forgetfulness have resulted in some key religious and archeological sites, ranging from ancient villages to sacred burial sites, being unappreciated or even desecrated. He said the new agreement, which sets up a committee in which natives will advise Parks Canada about best uses of the popular Gulf Islands park, will help educate the public about the aboriginal history and increase cross-cultural sensitivity.

"I think there was one situation [in the Gulf Islands] where toilets were put up over a burial site," he said. "I hope the public will understand. You don't build your houses on top of burial grounds."

A similar approach of park management is being touted by the provincial government, which has vowed to create "a new relationship" with first nations. It calls the agreement covering the northern tip of Vancouver Island -- which includes the popular killer whale site Robson Bight Ecological Reserve and Cormorant Channel Marine Provincial Park -- a model for the future.

"This government-to-government agreement between the province and the 'Namgis will allow us to work together to manage parks as effectively as possible," said Environment Minister Barry Penner.

Morales said his new agreement is an important step for aboriginals in British Columbia, giving them a say over future development. But he also said the public need not fear a land grab is underway because B.C. first nations, many of whom share competing claims over the Gulf Islands, have a history and tradition of sharing.

"Historically, we shared these areas," he said.

"We used them cooperatively. We've never had the view the land is for us to deal with exclusively. That's something we hope to continue."

mcernetig@png.canwest.com

© The Vancouver Sun 2006
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Province Signs Parks Agreement With 'Namgis Nation

VICTORIA – The Province of British Columbia and the ‘Namgis First Nation signed an agreement today to collaboratively manage parks and protected areas within ‘Namgis traditional territory.

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Natives to manage Gulf Islands park

By Edward HILL The Chronicle
May 16 2006

Cowichan Valley area First Nations are going to be granted co-management rights over the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, the Chronicle has learned.

The six bands within the Ladysmith-based Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG), and the HTG itself, are expected to sign an agreement Saturday in Duncan with MP Mark Warawa, a parliamentary secretary acting on behalf of the Parks Canada Agency.

The formal agreement provides a framework for consultation, planning and management between the Gulf Islands National Park staff and representatives from the Chemainus, Cowichan, Halalt, Lake Cowichan, Lyackson and Penelakut First Nations.

The Gulf Islands National Park, established in 2003, is 35 square kilometres of land and 26 square kilometres of ocean scattered among 15 islands, including Saturna, Pender and Sidney.

The park falls within the territory under treaty negotiation by the HTG and the federal and provincial governments.

Brian Thom, senior negotiations support to the HTG and architect of the agreement, said shared management of a federal park will provide a glimpse into the post-treaty world.

“It’s a significant step. This extends Hul’qumi’num authority to the greater world, into territory other than the reserves,” Thom said. “This is implementing the spirit of what we hope to get in a final treaty.”

For the six participating First Nations, Thom said the agreement will be an exercise in devising management strategies and delegating authority, all necessary structures for future self-governance.

Thom said the agreement is a direct result of a 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said the federal and provincial governments have a legal obligation to consult and accommodate First Nations.

When the agreement is signed, representatives from the Hul’qumi’num First Nations and the park superintendent will be required work collaboratively on common park issues.

The wording of the agreement hasn’t been released, but Thom said new campgrounds, burial and midden sites, and aboriginal cultural centres would be within the mandate of a joint committee.

“This is a powerful mechanism to have a voice in the park,” Thom said. “I expect a lot of people will be watching how this works.”

Steve Langdon, Parks Canada superintendent for coastal B.C., said the park has been working with local First Nations for the past year, but this agreement creates a formal relationship.

“It is a forum for dialogue. It is partly structured around building relationships with First Nations,” Langdon said. “It’s also about looking at common issues and approaches that reflect both our interests.”

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The Aboriginal Right to Fish

From the BC Treaty Commission News Stories Website, published May 17, 2006.

There is a belief that First Nations people have always enjoyed the same right of access to commercial fisheries as everyone else.

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