Time to make Snuneymuxw feel respected
Nanaimo is facing a water crisis in the coming decades if it doesn't act now to deal with deficiencies in its infrastructure, and it appears that it may be this haste that has led to hurt feelings among the Snuneymuxw First Nation.
While the city looks at long-term investment in a new and expensive dam, as well as mandated upgrades to its water treatment systems, a shorter-term solution has emerged in a sharing agreement with the Harmac pulp mill.
Harmac has its own water source from Fourth Lake but doesn't need it all, so they have been in discussions with the city to create an agreement to share the valuable resource. In fact, a special event is planned for Monday to hopefully provide more details about a potential agreement.
The prospect of such an agreement was met with enthusiasm and optimism as the talks between the company and the city escalated late last year.
However, the future of the deal got a little murky on Thursday when Snuneymuxw chief Doug White stood up and said the band hadn't been properly consulted.
Under the Douglas Treaty, the Snuneymuxw have rights to the waterfront all the way up the Nanaimo River.
"It's unfortunate that it has come to this, but we think it's time to educate our local government and industry about treaty rights," White told the Daily News on Thursday.
It was strong language from the third party in this ongoing saga and it turns out that White was the only one speaking with any clarity about the issue.
Nanaimo mayor John Ruttan said only that he was "frustrated" they hadn't been able to reach an agreement with the Snuneymuxw. Worse, he said he was unsure whether the band had a valid legal argument.
Harmac president Levi Sampson was no more direct in his evaluation of this development, saying only that it was the city's problem to solve.
City officials also failed to be open with information that could clear this up, suggesting we stay tuned for Monday's planned event.
White is correct that it's unfortunate that the matter has come to this point, considering the historical context of the parties involved.
The relationship with the municipality had been a rocky one until the late chief Viola Wyse worked diligently with city officials to repair the damage done by generations of miscommunication over such matters as legal rights.
It's difficult to say whether White is reigniting the feud with his strong language because he's the only one talking.
We're left to wonder why our mayor doesn't know more about the status of the issue or why he's unwilling to call out the Snuneymuxw if it's the city's position they are making unreasonable demands.
A lack of information always leads to speculation and mistrust, both among those involved and the public, who take an interest in the behaviour and dealings of their local representatives.
Sadly, this is just an example of a national problem after gen-erations of governments failed to properly and definitively deal with aboriginal rights in this country.
At the local level, we suggest that politicians - and Harmac - take note, because White, a lawyer by trade, has made it clear on more that one occasion that he will not leave these issues to burden the next generation: ". . . we have significant legal rights around the water supply issue and we intend to stop this agreement from happening. The fact that the city and Harmac would consider moving forward with a water-sharing agreement without the Snuneymuxw shows a pattern of disrespect that we want stopped."