A company owned by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation in Port Alberni has plans to acquire from Western Forest Products 28% of a tree farm licence that covers 137,000 hectares in the Alberni Valley, a move that would increase its influence on the future of the massive forestry tenure.
A vote last weekend by members of the nation gave Huumiis Ventures LP, wholly owned by Huu-ay-aht, the green light to move ahead with financing the deal.
Huumiis already owns a 7% stake in TFL 44, which contains 780,000 cubic metres of allowable cut around Great Central Lake and Alberni Inlet.
The acquisition plan would bump ownership up to 35% and give the Huu-ay-aht company three of the seven seats on the TFL 44 board with Western Forest Products.
Huu-ay-aht councillor John Jack said the deal represents an investment of $22.4 million, and lays the groundwork for an eventual majority share to be considered in the first quarter of 2023.
The next step of the investment is to acquire an additional 16%, he said. “If approved by our citizens, [it] would bring Huumiis’ interests up to 51%, giving it majority say into what happens in the tree farm licence on our traditional territory.”
Eighty-two per cent of members voted in support of the transaction. “When we signed the Maa-nulth Treaty, it gave our citizens a constitutional right to play an active role in the future of their nation,” said Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “Today, citizens practised that right and show their support for this deal.”
Huu-ay-aht First Nation is part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation and the Maa-nulth Treaty Agreement that grants its five member nations self-government as well as ownership, control and law-making authority over their lands and resources.
Head Hereditary Chief Derek Peters called the deal an opportunity that will support future generations.
Huu-at-aht councillor Edward Johnson said it’s about “investing in our people.”
“It is important that this allows us to get our citizens working on our own land and offer them the skills and training they need to take advantage of those employment opportunities,” he said.
Shannon Janzen, vice-president of partnerships and sustainability and chief forester for Western Forest Products, said the partnership reflects the company’s history of finding common ground to achieve reconciliation and forestry revitalization.
“We look forward to continuing this work as we forge a new path together,” she said in a statement.