The federal government on Wednesday returned a key stretch of marine coastline near Port Renfrew to the Pacheedaht First Nation in advance of a treaty settlement with the band.
Middle Beach, a 2.64-hectare stretch of waterfront, has been part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve since 1988, dividing Pacheedaht First Nation’s main reserves, Pacheena 1 and Gordon River 2.
Known as ?A:?b?e:?s (pronounced Aah/bee/ay/s), Middle Beach now links the reserve lands.
Middle Beach is disconnected from other portions of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, so the visiting public has been largely unaware of its protected status, according to Parks Canada.
Ottawa added Middle Beach to Pacific Rim National Park 35 years ago without formal consultation, or recognition of the Pacheedaht or their systems of traditional governance.
The park regulations prohibited Pacheedaht management of the area and harvesting of resources. Now the Pacheedaht and Parks Canada have agreed to return land use and stewardship to the Pacheedaht people in advance of treaty implementation.
“Today is an important day, as once again Pacheedaht will be able to take care of and use our lands at Middle Beach,” said Pacheedaht Chief Jeff Jones. “For many years we have been separated from these lands and this agreement with Parks Canada represents an important step forward while we finalize our treaty.”
Jones said the Pacheedaht are thankful to Parks Canada for working with the nation “to find a way to recognize our responsibilities to these important lands until ownership of them come back to us under treaty.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations and Parks Canada have been in treaty negotiations with Pacheedaht First Nation since 1996.
As part of the Pacheedaht’s 2019 agreement in principle, Ottawa acknowledged Middle Beach as treaty settlement land and agreed to transfer it from Parks Canada to the nation upon completion of ongoing treaty negotiations.
“A part of our territory is coming back to our people that has been kind of a missing link of our beach,” Jones said, adding that the Pacheedaht are happy to be “moving in this direction of ownership of our lands.”
The transition will add the Pacheedaht’s voice to decision-making on resource management, intertidal harvesting, transmission of cultural knowledge and harnessing economic opportunities, according to Parks Canada.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree, who was in Port Renfrew for Wednesday’s signing ceremony, said returning the stewardship of Middle Beach to the Pacheedaht is essential.
“The cultures and identities of Indigenous Peoples are rooted in ties with the land,” he said. “For more than a hundred years, the government stole land and severed these ties. Today, with the signing of this agreement, we begin to reverse this act of violence as the stewardship of the land at ?A:?b?e:?s is given back to Pacheedaht First Nation.”
He said the move re-establishes that the Pacheedaht are the “rightful custodians of the land.”
“It is a very important path towards our treaty negotiations,” Anandasangaree said. “We are very hopeful that this is a significant milestone in that journey.
“I can understand the deep frustration that it’s taken us this long to get to this point.”
He said that going forward, the beach will be managed and under full control of the Pacheedaht.
Jones said there could be a tourism opportunity at the beach to benefit both the Pacheedaht and the larger Port Renfrew community with employment opportunities.
He said there are other pieces of land nearby that the nation would like to have back once the treaty is finalized.
— With a file from Jeff Bell