In June 2019, the We Wai Kai First Nation signed an incremental treaty agreement with B.C.'s provincial government. While making the announcement, the province said this first step toward a treaty would bring the community early economic opportunities, increased participation in the local forest economy and long-term benefits.
Over three years later, We Wai Kai Chief Ronnie Chickite says B.C. has yet to hand over any of the 30 square kilometres of land in the Lower Campbell River area of Vancouver Island that was promised in the initial agreement.
"We've been in treaty negotiations for well over 30 years," said Chickite, who was elected chief two years ago.
"This is just an economic benefit that our membership was hoping to receive, and we are still waiting to receive."
Chickite describes the land in question as "rich in forest." He says the First Nation selected the parcel specifically for forestry because it's an ideal site to harvest valuable fir and cedar trees.
Chickite says the We Wai Kai purchased a logging company as part of its plan to start a new timber operation on Vancouver Island. According to a market analysis, he says the community could have earned over $4 million in forestry revenue if the first piece of land had been handed over a year after the agreement was signed, as promised.
"There's just always roadblock after roadblock," he said, explaining that some of the delays have been due to surveying of the land in question that has to be completed. Chickite says the mapping work is being done with outdated technology and has been slowed down by bad weather. The rest, he chalks up to government bureaucracy.
"We do have provincial folks who work on our treaty table who are working quite hard," he said. "But there's people in the background that are slowing this process down."
In a statement to CBC, B.C.'s Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said it was committed to honouring the Incremental Treaty Agreement reached with the We Wai Kai First Nation in 2019 and is working with the Nation to explore "innovative ways" to achieve the agreement's goals.
"We recognize that improving the process for transferring Crown land is critical to realizing our commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and are actively looking at ways to address this issue," reads the statement.
But Chickite says the process is taking far too long and he's frustrated having to go back to his community every few months to let them know there are more delays.
"There's four parcels to this whole chunk of land, but we haven't even got one parcel back yet," he said.
"The provincial government is saying reconciliation is a key thing for us. For us, the benefits, we're not receiving that."
Chickite says the We Wai Kai Nation is looking to take advantage of economic opportunities and create more jobs for its members.
He hopes expressing the frustration shared by him and the people in his community will push the B.C. government to speed up the process.
"We're a rapidly growing First Nation," he said. "We're looking at building new things and increasing our membership. This would really help us."