British Columbia

Reconciliation agreement reached between B.C. and Heiltsuk Nation

The B.C. government has signed a wide-ranging agreement with the Heiltsuk Nation aimed at promoting economic development and carrying out priorities the community has put forward for years.

$22.3M in funding will go toward language centre, tourism opportunities and elders' care facility

Gvakva'aus Hailzaqv, or House of the Heiltsuk, pictured in Bella Bella, B.C. (Supplied by the Heiltsuk Nation)

The B.C. government has signed a wide-ranging agreement with the Heiltsuk Nation aimed at promoting economic development and carrying out priorities the community has put forward for years.

The 'mṇúxvs Nuáqi — "One Mind, One Thought" — agreement was signed Friday by leaders of the nation as well as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin.

The deal includes $23.3 million in provincial funding to the Heiltsuk so the community can invest in housing, cultural preservation, environmental protections and economic development. 

"Today is a really significant day for the Heiltsuk people. We're always moving forward, setting our Heiltsuk vision in terms of what we want to see, in terms of a strong Heiltsuk community and a healthy Heiltsuk community," said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.

"These are all issues that have been very important to our community."

Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett pictured in 2016. (Heiltsuk Nation)

Slett said some of the community's plans for the funding include the creation of a language centre and language programs, tourism business opportunities, a business plan for a lumber mill and a long-term elders' care facility. She said it is also a foundation for the implementation of Heiltsuk rights, title and self-government under a 2019 deal with the provincial and federal governments.

MLA Jennifer Rice, who represents the North Coast in the B.C. Legislature, said the significance of doing the work outside the court and treaties process "should be celebrated."

"No amount of financial contribution can right the wrongs of the past, but I'm hopeful that this commitment can help Heiltsuk in achieving your goal of closing the socioeconomic gaps created by settler colonialism," said Rice.

The priorities are referred to in the agreement as House Posts, a nod to the Heiltsuk λiác̓i (bighouse), which opened on Heiltsuk territory in Bella Bella, B.C., in 2019.

Community leaders said the agreement was a "historic event" for the nation and a culmination of years of work between the government and previous band chiefs and councillors.

"We look forward to working together with both governments to try and make things better for our people. It's been a long road for us to get to this point. I remember our older chiefs that were here and dreamt about days like this, where we can make things happen for our members," said Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt.

Rankin agreed the deal was "one for the history books" and noted the nation's "remarkable leadership and patience in getting us to this day."

"I say patience because I know how long this particular journey has been," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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