A land deal decades in the making has been done, which connects the Indian Reserve where Kitamaat Village rests to another just south of the channel.
Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross explains that the deal means the land that exists between the Village (‘Indian Reserve 1’) and ‘Indian Reserve 2’ is the subject of this new arrangement and will allow the community flexibility to grow.
That said, there’s no firm plan on what to use the land for, except to say that it won’t be used for industrial developments.
“We definitely need expansion lands for residential, social, and possible commercial use. Not industrial,” he said.
Efforts to take responsibility for the land began in 1948 and subsequent Haisla councils have continued to try to get it.
“They wanted land for, basically, residential use. And maybe some commercial use. That’s still the idea today.”
A celebration was held last week to mark the occasion in Kitamaat Village.
The celebration goes beyond simply marking a land deal with the government, but is a signal of continued improving relations, said Ross.
“It’s been a long, complicated, drawn out file,” he explained. “When I got in to the file I just thought it was a worthwhile initiative to actually pursue but in reading the timeline it started in 1948 and included B.C., Canada, Rio Tinto Alcan, and on and on and on. From 1948.”
He said to mark the occasion is to celebrate the fact that Haisla persistence has finally paid off. And he also credits a far improved relationship with the provincial government than existed a decade or two ago.
“It’s not the fearmongering of 20 years ago when First Nations were going to take over the world and kick everybody out. It’s not that anymore. We’ve got a government that says ‘yeah, let’s sit down and let’s come to a mutually acceptable agreement.”
He said that change in mentality has become apparent over the last 10 years.
“It’s just getting progressively better.”
It’s an improvement that he said the Haisla are not seeing from the federal government so far.
“We’re not very close to the federal government,” said Ross.
Ross spoke about the relationship before the end of the election so while it was hard to predict how it’d be going forward, he did say the Conservative government at least hasn’t shown much initiative.
“I don’t see a Conservative government changing their mandate or their policies anytime soon. Not to the same standards of what B.C. has done,” he said. “But both NDP and Liberals have promised better relations and better negotiations, but that’s a wait and see thing because I’ve heard that before.”
The relationship with the District of Kitimat meanwhile is also showing stronger links, he said from his perspective.
“They are getting better. I think they’re starting to realize the Haisla are here…we’re not going away. We have to be acknowledged,” he said. “They’re willing to look now at how different initiatives are good for the region. So it’s better to get on board now. Before it was always so isolated, just what’s good for Kitimat.”
Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth was elected on a platform which included a better relationship with the Haisla.
The progress of the Haisla-owned Haisla Town Centre development in Kitimat’s City Centre is an indication of that improving relationship, he said.