Tseshaht First Nation seeks federal compensation for construction of highway across its territory

The Pacific Rim Highway, or Highway 4, connects the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island, with around 70 kilometres of it crossing Tseshaht First Nation territory. (Google - image credit)
The Pacific Rim Highway, or Highway 4, connects the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island, with around 70 kilometres of it crossing Tseshaht First Nation territory. (Google - image credit)

The Tseshaht First Nation is seeking compensation from the federal government for a highway it says was built on its territory despite its opposition.

The nation submitted a specific claim earlier this month with the government, citing the "unlawful and unauthorized" use of its land to build the Pacific Rim Highway across central Vancouver Island starting in the late 19th century.

The Pacific Rim Highway, also known as Highway 4, today connects the east and west coasts of the Island between Qualicum Beach and Tofino.

Tseshaht elected Chief Ken Watt says the federal government not only allowed the province to build a road through the First Nation's reserve in 1889 without consultation, but it also never compensated the nation for the use of its land.

"From 1890 on we've had serious concerns and incidents that have occurred along this highway ... and we shared our concerns, but the federal government allowed it despite our opposition," Watts said on CBC's On The Island.

Specific claims 

A specific claim refers to a claim submitted by a First Nation to right past wrongs committed by the Canadian government against Indigenous nations.

Watt says the claim is an opportunity for Canada to not only accept responsibility for its wrongs but to ensure his nation is compensated "for the loss of its reserve lands for this increasingly popular highway."

The federal government has three years to determine if it will accept the claim.

In a statement to CBC News, Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said it has received the claim and is "committed to reviewing [it]."

"Working collaboratively to resolve historical grievances through the specific claims resolution process is fundamental to advancing reconciliation in Canada," it said.

According to a Tseshaht territory map, Highway 4 stretches around 70 kilometres through the nation's land, from just east of Cameron Lake to near Sutton Pass.

Watt said the nation has continuously expressed its concern about the impacts of the highway, "including increased pollution, garbage waste transportation and vehicle accidents" that disproportionately affect Tseshaht members.

Agreement sought with province

The First Nation is also asking for the province for an agreement with the First Nation on the future use of the Highway 4.

"If we put a toll booth there and we charged a dollar for every person that went over, we would be pretty well off," said Watts.

"To this date we have no agreement with the province of B.C. [and] we've never been compensated."

CBC News has contacted the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure for comment.