Snuneymuxw First Nation, BC Ferries signs a formal agreement governing business decisions on the country’s territory

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BC Ferries and the Snuneymuxw First Nation announce they have entered into a historic formal agreement that will recognize the nation’s treaty rights and govern the ferry company’s business decisions in the Snuneymuxw Territory of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.

“It’s the first of its kind [agreement] between BC Ferries and a First Nation,” said William Yoachim, acting chief of the nation, at the signing event at the nation’s headquarters this morning.

“It represents a commitment to build a common way forward.”

Four ferry terminals serve the nation’s traditional territory: Departure Bay, Nanaimo Harbor and Duke Point in Nanaimo, and Descano Bay on Gabriola Island.

There are four BC Ferry terminals in the Snuneymuxw area: Departure Bay, Nanaimo Harbor and Duke Point in Nanaimo, and Descano Bay on Gabriola Island. (bcferries.com)

BC Ferries said the document outlines “common goals” and future discussions about how the ferries will impact the country’s villages, economic opportunities, land and water stewardship and local Indigenous culture.

The document also outlines a procedure for the ferry company to consult with the Snuneymuxw on specific projects, aiming to obtain a “free, prior and informed consent” from the nation on key decisions.

Eradicate decades of discrimination

earlier this year the nation criticized the company for naming two ships – scheduled to sail in the area – using words from another First Nation language, to which BC Ferries said the names of its Island-class ships “are not related to the areas or routes on which they may operate”.

Chief Mike Wyse also denied operating four ferry terminals on the nation’s territory without proper consultation, saying the company had “caused significant adverse effects” and “violated our 1854 Snuneymuxw Treaty,” which protected the nation’s claim to its own country recognizes .

At the signing event, elders and former Snuneymuxw chiefs recalled a time when tribal people were relegated to the lower decks of ferries and told to stay in their vehicles unless they needed to use the toilet.

“I remember when my grandfather told me we had to go downstairs and be with the cattle and not with the people,” senior and former chief James Johnny recalled, adding that he was “always suspicious” if the nation signs such an agreement. However, he says he has confidence in his nation’s advice on the deal.

Jill Sharland, interim CEO of BC Ferries, said the document was a “culmination of many months of work” and acknowledged the company’s past discrimination.

Yoachim told CBC News that previous attempts to speak to BC Ferries to sign a letter of intent have come up short.

“For some reason we were never able to get where we are today,” he said, adding that he commends BC Ferries for “getting out of the box and deviating from their colonial practices.” to work with the nation.

“It’s not going to be just a feel-good document that sits on the shelf and says, ‘All right and let’s all go our separate ways,'” he said.

“This will be a document that will work.”

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