$13.8 million Huu-ay-aht compensation to stand after feds remove appeal

Eric Plummer, September 8, 2017

Huu-ay-aht Tyee Ha'wilth Derek Peters is glad his tribe will be compensated for a 68-year case involving the federal mismanagement of forest land. (Huu-ay-aht photo)

Ottawa — 

The Government of Canada is backing down from appealing a Special Claims Tribunal ruling, allowing $13.8 million in compensation to the Huu-ay-aht First Nations to stand without undergoing a further judicial review.

In December 2016 the Special Claims Tribunal determined that the First Nation was owed the money due to the federal government's mismanagement of Huu-ay-aht forest land from 1948-69 – but in January this compensation was challenged with an application for a judicial review. On Tuesday, Sept. 5 Canada withdrew this appeal, announced through a joint statement from Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minster of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

“The government of Canada is committed to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through a renewed, nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown and government-to-government relationship,” stated the minsters.

“We are happy that Canada is going to honour its commitment to reconciliation by accepting this ruling,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis Sr. “We believe it is wise to honour this decision in a pragmatic and reconciliatory manner instead or both sides having to spend more time and money fighting it.”

The ruling concerns the historic handling of timber on the Huu-ay-aht's Numukamis Reserve. In 1938 the Huu-ay-aht surrendered all marketable timber on 1,100 acres in Barkley Sound to the federal government “to sell in terms most conducive to our welfare,” according to documented details informing the tribunal's 2016 ruling. In 1942 Canada issued a 21-year harvesting licence to Bloedel, Stewart and Welsh - but despite a significant rise in timber prices at the time, by 1948 no harvested wood from the reserve had been sold. At this time the Huu-ay-aht asked that the feds to cancel the timber license and replace it with one that benefitted the nation, but this request was denied.

Before the compensation amount was set, Justice Larry Whalen determined in 2014 that the federal government unjustly left the Huu-ay-aht out of decisions concerning their land. Logging did eventually begin on the reserve, continuing until 1970, but Whalen concluded that the length of the lease violated the Indian Act.

“An alternative course could have been taken in 1948 that saw the timber harvested more advantageously and according to law,” stated Whalen in his ruling. “An updated valuation consulting with [the Huu-ay-aht First Nations] followed by a new call for tenders recognizing HFN's views and the terms of the surrender would have been the better alternative.”

The $13.8 million was set by the tribunal as compensation for historical damages caused by the mismanagement of the timber, brought to a current value in 2016 dollars.

A statement issued by the Huu-ay-aht noted that the compensation will help the First Nation continue to develop a strong economy for its citizens.

“I am so pleased that my tribe will finally get justice in this 68-year case,” said Tyee Ha'wilth Derek Peters. “Canada's decision not to further prolong this decision honours the many leaders who have held my name before me. Seeing this result makes me happy for my family and the entire Huu-ay-aht Nation.”

The Specific Claims Tribunal is a judicial body of federal judges appointed by provincial superior courts. Under the leadership of the previous Conservative government and the Assembly of First Nations, the tribunal was established in 2008 to resolve outstanding claims from First Nations against the federal government. But Ministers Wilson-Raybould and Bennett noted that an “overhaul” is still needed to better settle disputes.

“The Huu-ay-aht Nation has waited far too long for the Government of Canada to make amends for past wrongs,” stated the federal minsters. “While we disagree with the formula to award compensation determined by the tribunal, the government has taken this decision in the interest of moving past this case and advancing reconciliation.”