Forest company trespassing on reserve lands: Mowachaht

Vancouver Island First Nations say Western Forest Products trespassing on reserve lands

Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations say company not allowed to use portion of highway that passes through reserve land to truck logs.| File photo, Ralf Herschback, Shutterstock

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations on Vancouver Island say Western Forest Products has been trespassing on Indian Reserve land and are refusing to let the company continue using the end portion of Highway 28 in Gold River that gives the company access to a log sort.

The highway runs from Cambell River to Gold River. It is a provincial highway but in Gold River it passes through IR 12 as it leads down to the watrerfront.

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht recently announced they would begin blockading access to the section of the highway that passes through the reserve to Western Forest Products.

"MMFN has seen no benefit and has received no compensation from WFP for this unauthorized use of the reserve lands at any time, and the road has been in trespass since the late 1960’s," the two First Nations group say in a joint press release.

It appears the dispute comes down to failure on the part of Western Forests to compensate the Mowachaht and Muchalaht for the ongoing use of the segment of highway that passes through IR 12.

In a press release, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht suggest that no commercial activity will be allowed on the portion of highway passing through IR 12.

But Dorothy Hunt, lands manager for the Mowachaht/Muchalaht, said it's only Western Forest Products that is being forbidden from using the road.

"The only vehicles that won't be able to go across the road, through the reserve lands, will be Western Forest Products," Hunt said.

She said the highway was built through the reserve in the 1950s without consent of the First Nation. 

The First Nation has been in talks with the provincial ministry of Transportation to address the fact the bands were not properly compensated. Hunt said recent talks with the ministry "went really well."

"The government ackowledges the error of putting in the highway without consent or consultation, and so we're working with them diligently in coming to a compensation package for the nation," Hunt said.

A meeting with Western Forest Products didn't go so well, she said.

She said there has been an expectation that the company would compensate the First Nations for use of the road, something it has not done for the past 20 years.

"Western basically has a 20-year outstanding bill with the nation," Hunt said.

In a statement to BIV, Western Forest Products said, "Like other businesses, we had relied on the classification of this road as a provincial highway."

"This is a complex issue and we have been in ongoing discussions with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and the province related to the highway through IR #12. We are committed to continuing to work in good faith to achieve a fair resolution."