Vancouver Island First Nations enter partnership with forest company

VICTORIA — A limited partnership between four Vancouver Island First Nations and one of British Columbia's major forest companies is being hailed as a path forward for the industry in the province.

The Campbell River area First Nations are acquiring a 34 per cent ownership stake in the new partnership with Western Forest Products Inc. for $35.9 million, with part of the funding coming from treaty agreements with the province.

Premier David Eby said Tuesday it's an example of First Nations, businesses and communities working together on reconciliation after decades of conflict that included court battles over land issues.

"It's a landmark agreement," he said at a news conference. "What it's really about is increasing the role of First Nations as stewards of their territories and driving stronger communities and greater economic development on northern Vancouver Island."

The partnership involving the K'omoks, Wei Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and Tlowitsis First Nations will operate on 157,000 hectares of forest near Campbell River and Sayward, and manage an allowable annual cut of more than 900,000 cubic metres of timber.

Chief Dallas Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council that has the four First Nations as members, said the partnership is a step toward sustainable and effective forest management.

"Sometimes these relationships take some friction to push them over the line," said Smith, adding he recalled the First Nations spending decades dealing with numerous B.C. governments and forest company executives before reaching the stage they are at now.

Western Forest Products president Stephen Hofer said the partnership represents a new era for forestry in B.C., where everyone has the opportunity to participate and benefit.

"We recognize that our future lies not only in the products we make but the relationships we build," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2023.

The Canadian Press