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Island First Nation reclaims stewardship of beach in historic agreement

Middle Beach in Pacific Rim National Park is important area in First Nation’s traditional territory
A map identifying Middle Beach near Port Renfrew (Parks Canada)

Pacheedaht First Nation is celebrating an agreement that begins to right a historic wrong by returning stewardship of a stretch of beach to its rightful owners.

Pacheedaht First Nation Chief Jeff Jones and federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree signed an agreement Wednesday returning the stewardship of Middle Beach to the Pacheedaht First Nation.

The stretch of land known as Middle Beach in Pacific Rim National Park near Port Renfrew is an important shoreline area in Pacheedaht’s traditional territory.

“We are very grateful to be moving in the direction of ownership of our land through Parks Canada,” Jones said following the ceremony.

The federal government added Middle Beach to Pacific Rim National Park in 1988 without formal consultation or recognition of Pacheedaht or their systems of traditional governance. An accompanying regulation continued prohibiting Pacheedaht’s managing of the area or the harvesting of resources.

“Today is an important day as once again Pacheedaht will be able to take care of and use our lands at Middle Beach,” Jones said.

“For many years we have been separated from these and and this agreement with Parks Canada represents an important step forward while we finalize our treaty. The cultures and identities of Indigenous Peoples are rooted in ties to this land.”

Jones noted that for more than 100 years, the government stole the land and severed those ties. Still, signing the agreement will begin to reverse the act of violence as the stewardship of Middle Beach is given back to the Pacheedaht.

“I am honoured to have been a part of the ceremony held today and look forward to the important work ahead,” Jones said.

Jones thanked Parks Canada for working together to find a way to recognize Pacheedaht’s responsibilities to these important lands until ownership comes back through a treaty

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Crown-Indigenous Relations and Parks Canada has been in active treaty negotiations with the Pacheedaht First Nation since 1996.

The federal government acknowledged in an agreement in principle in 2019 that Middle Beach is part of the Pacheedaht First Nation treaty settlement lands and would be transferred to the Pacheedaht once ongoing treaty negations are completed.

“It is a step towards healing from the harm caused by policies that led to separation from ancestral lands, culture and identity,” Anandasangaree said.

“The ceremony today exemplifies the efforts from Pacheedaht First Nation and the Government of Canada to develop shared understandings and to forge a path forward based on shared goals.”

Pacheedaht Nation and Parks Canada have created an adaptive approach to return land use and stewardship to First Nations.

Parks Canada administers more than 90 per cent of federal lands, with nearly half of those traditionally used and cared for by Indigenous Peoples.

Many heritage places administered by Parks Canada have transitioned over time from a past where Indigenous Peoples were separated from their ancestral lands and waters to the present-day context, where Parks Canada and Indigenous Peoples strive to work collaboratively.

About the Author: Rick Stiebel

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