The Huu-ay-aht First Nations is a self-governing Nation located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the Barkley Sound region, 300 km northwest of Victoria, British Columbia.
As a strong, self-reliant Nation, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations prioritizes a safe, healthy, and sustainable community, where its culture, language, spirituality, and economy flourish for all.
As a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and the Maa-nulth Treaty Final Agreement, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations has full ownership and jurisdiction over more than 8,200 hectares of land, the stewardship of which is at the core of their culture and values, determining everything from their way of life to their approach to economic development.
Business Elite Canada spoke to Elected Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. about the work of the Executive Council and Ḥaw̓iiḥ Council (hereditary chiefs) to ensure citizens have every opportunity to build a bright, safe future where they can celebrate their territory, language, and culture, and participate in their Nation’s business.
“Huu-ay-aht First Nation is very proud to say we’re self-governing,” says Dennis. “Before becoming Treaty, we were part of the colonial system where we had to abide by Canada’s rules and regulations that often didn’t fit our needs. Now we have been self-governing for 12-years and participate in our own affairs, have our own legislature, and executive council.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nations has three Sacred Principles: ʔiisaak (Greater Respect); Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is One); and ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care Of). These principles are what guide them in all aspects of their natural resources and economy. Huu-ay-aht has developed a substantial economic development plan while also safeguarding the things it has vowed to protect, chief among them, the natural environment.
“If you have a strong nation, you can have a strong economy,” says Dennis. “From an economic perspective, our economy has grown 26 times since we joined the Maa-nulth Treaty Society.”
Tourists worldwide are recognizing the West Coast of Vancouver Island as a premier destination as Tofino and Ucluelet are becoming increasingly popular options. However, Anacla and Bamfield offer similar world-class attractions. These attractions include but are not limited to numerous beaches such as Pachena and Brady Beach, access to Parks Canada’s West Coast Trail, breathtaking scenery, and many opportunities for marine visitor activities. Exploring a unique indigenous history and opportunities for authentic cultural experiences await visitors.
Huu-ay-aht recently completed a mission started by former Chief Spencer Peters, who worked to have Kiix̣in, a 19th-century village and fortress that shows evidence of communities that date back more than 5,000 years, recognized officially as a National Historic Site. Kiix̣in is also the only known traditional First Nation’s village of more than 100 villages on the southern British Columbia coast that still features significant, standing traditional architecture. In 2022, Huu-ay-aht First Nations unveiled an official commemorative plaque to acknowledge the designation of Kiix̣in as a National Historic Site of Canada.
“I recall very clearly Chief Spencer Peters making the trip to Ottawa to make the request to have Kiix̣in a designated national site,” says Dennis. “To see his work and the work of his father completed and achieved is one of the most recognized and honoured events in my lifetime.”
Huu-ay-aht has offered culturally guided Kiix̣in tours since 2017. Guided by Huu-ay-aht knowledge holders, visitors will hike a trail while exploring pristine rain forests surrounded by old-growth trees, beautiful protected beaches and house remains.
Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses
HFN Group of Businesses oversees the strategic direction of all 13 businesses owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Businesses which can be grouped under the categories of tourism & hospitality, and natural resources, include the Hačas Inn, Awis Guesthouse and Marina, the Upnit Lodge, Bamfield East Dock, and Pachena Bay Campground.
The HFN Group of Businesses were formed to support Huu-ay-aht’s economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being. This is accomplished through initiatives that provide sustainable benefits, and are committed to building and operating profitable, commercial ventures in a sustainable manner to provide a return on investment to the Nation.
Natural Resources Industry
To ensure that Huu-ay-aht’s lands and natural resources are managed in a way that align with their values, the Nation is in the process of completing the Hišuk ma c̕awak Integrated Resource Management Plan (HIRMP). The HIRMP is a Huu-ay-aht-led initiative that uses the latest data, science and technology to create a common vision and direction for government-to-government land and resource management decisions. The plan will inform provincially-legislated processes such as forest landscape plans, old-growth management, and on-the-ground operational planning to ensure long-lasting socio-economic, environmental, and cultural benefits across the area.
This new model of Indigenous-led decision-making will cover all values, including fisheries, culture, and climate change, and incorporate the research and advice of leading experts in forestry, fisheries, and integrated resource management.
In 2022, Huu-ay-aht marked the second and most successful year of the Sarita River Chinook Economic Surplus Salmon Opportunity. This is a pilot project Huu-ay-aht has been working on for many years: to establish a Treaty-right of seasonal commercial harvest for Huu-ay-aht citizens.
For years, Huu-ay-aht has taken steps of careful enhancement in the Sarita River and have slowly seen an increase in Chinook return. Large efforts have gone into restoring and rebuilding the Sarita River for the returning salmon, and through partnerships, Huu-ay-aht has worked on an enhancement hatchery program.
Together with a team of specialists, Huu-ay-aht has been able to increase the Chinook count with wild and hatchery fish, and through negotiation, were approved to lead the catchment of marked hatchery Salmon to go towards their harvest count. This paired well with the clause within the Maa-nulth Treaty which allows for a nation to financially benefit from a “surplus enhanced salmon stock”. This means Huu-ay-aht can use the surplus fish for their food fish program or sell commercially for profit.
Huu-ay-aht First Nations is a member of the Tsawak-qin Forestry Limited Partnership (C̕awak ʔqin Forestry), formerly known as TFL 44 Limited Partnership, along with Western Forest Products Inc. The forestry strategy will consider the present and future needs of the nations and ecosystems while bringing together the teachings of the nations’ ancestors, the wisdom of the nations’ elders, and the input of the nations’ citizens and members.
The HIRMP will complement, not replace, other IRMP processes underway in the region. Plan development will be supported in part by the BC Resource Stewardship Working Team—a group of leading members of BC’s scientific, professional, and academic communities.
“The HIRMP is long overdue and is being done in a good way—with full respect for the decision-making role of nations on C̕awak ʔqin Forestry,” says Dennis. “It is time for everyone, including expert panels in Victoria and old-growth protestors, to show respect for the sovereignty of our nations and to respect our ability to unify and lead all members of society into a brighter future. The land is our culture, and it is our stewardship decisions that count.”
This partnership will hopefully set a precedent on the role forestry companies play in supporting and upholding Indigenous government forest and resource analysis and decision-making and how important resource management planning work can be led by First Nations in a manner that respects Indigenous sovereignty.
“Our guiding principles state that we want to balance our resource values to meet economic and cultural needs of our people within our territory,” says Dennis. “That is a very important part to us and we pay very close attention to that. You want to give the utmost respect to the ecosystem and all the living things that live within that ecosystem.”
Back in 2019, Huu-ay-aht First Nation put a two-year moratorium on timber harvesting to complete an integrated resource management planning process, and make a long-term forest and resource stewardship decisions.
And in 2021, Huu-ay-aht announced it has confirmed 33 percent of productive forest within their Ḥahuułi (Traditional Territory) is still old growth. The total productive forested area within the Hahuułi and C̕awak ʔqin Forestry is 153,773 hectares, of which 51,240 ha, or 33 percent, is old forest (greater than 250 years old).
Huu-ay-aht also reduced the maximum number of the harvestable area from 60,000 to 50,000 cubic meters in 2022, and exceeded the number of trees planted required by provincial requirements.
“We are proud of these practices,” says Dennis.
Anyone who has had the good fortune of visiting these old growth forests knows the debt we pay to the Huu-ay-aht First Nation for protecting such majestic parts of nature.
The Oomiiqsu (Aboriginal Mother Centre)
In November of 2022, Huu-ay-aht First Nations and B.C. celebrated the creation of the Oomiiqsu (Aboriginal Mother Centre), a new housing, support and child care centre that will help Indigenous women and children on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Oomiiqsu, meaning “mother”, is an Indigenous-led model of care developed by Huu-ay-aht in consultation with its members. The two-story transition housing, child care and support centre will be managed and operated by the Huu-ay-aht government’s Child and Family Wellness Department. The centre will provide a safe and culturally appropriate home for as many as 48 mothers and children leaving violence or abuse, facing mental-health and addictions challenges, poverty, or other trauma.
This partnership between the Province and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations will make an important difference on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where many communities are remote and provide few options for mothers and their children in need.
Through evaluation, Huu-ay-aht developed a housing report and within in it were recommendations to make the ḥahuułi (traditional territory) a safe, healthy, thriving community with a strong economy where half of Huu-ay-aht people choose to live.
Through grants and partnerships, Huu-ay-aht has started the process of bringing their people home and building homes in their community. To date, Huu-ay-aht has developed 24 rental units with three more multi-units to come in 2023.
For Huu-ay-aht, economic development means “business enterprises will be self-sufficient, independent of the financial resources of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations in their operation, uphold the Nation’s values, and operate transparently, profitably, and in a manner that provides a reasonable return on the investment made, and be allowed to operate free from political interference.” Says Robert.
For more information, please visit www.huuayaht.org