New agreement makes Tsimshian player in port expansion

Lax Kw
Lax Kw'alaams Chief, Gary Reece; Federal Minister of Transport, Chuck Strahl; and Metlakatla Chief, Harold Leighton announcing the new agreement at Fairview Terminal.
— image credit: Alan S. Hale

The federal minister of Transport and Infrastructure, Chuck Strahl, came to the Fairview Terminal in Prince Rupert on Monday to announce a new agreement between the federal government, Prince Rupert Port Authority and the Cost Tsimshain First Nations of Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams. The new agreement “guarantees participation” of the Tsimshian Nations in all aspects of port expansion at the Fairview terminal.

We’re committed to ensuring that the Coast Tsimshian have a role in port development, so we’re (the federal government) providing economic development funding to help build long lasting business opportunities and employment training to make sure that Tsimshian members have the skills required to take on challenging and well paying jobs,” says Strahl.

How much federal money is going to be spent is a mystery because Strahl declined to give any figures or even a ballpark estimate. According to the minister, the government has no intention of releasing the figures and likened it to a private business contract, despite the fact that it will be spending taxpayer money.

The agreement has been under negotiation for the past three years and will last for 40 years after it is signed. The purpose of the agreement is to give the Tsimshian more control over, and access to the economic benefits coming out of the port in exchange for the infringements to their land rights and title caused by phase I and phase II of the port expansion. It was also announced that phase II is scheduled to begin sometime in early to mid 2012.

The agreement contains many new concessions to the Tsimshian First Nations. According to the agreement, the Tsimshian members are being guaranteed more jobs at Fairview terminal and their businesses are being promised $20-million worth of no-bid contracts, but according to Metlakatla’s chief, Harold Leighton, what they projects are is being kept secret for now.

“The coast Tsimshian will be able to negotiate directly on certain contracts. I can’t really say which ones they are right now. I don’t think there is any preferential treatment there we’ve got to be competitive,” says Leighton.

Strahl also highlighted the agreements new Future Projects Protocol, which is a new set of agreed upon rules for working out the details for new projects that will involve aboriginal land rights and title. The hope is that the new protocol will make negotiations and consultations on these issues go more quickly instead of having them get bogged down for years.

The agreement mandates land transfers to the Coast from the federal and provincial governments to be used in phase II of the port expansion, which will be leased back by the Port Authority from the Tsimshian.

A joint committee of representatives from the port authority and the First Nations will be formed and will participate in decisions by the decision making of the Port Authorities Board of directors.

The agreement also includes an archeological mitigation plan and a dispute resolution process for when disagreements arise from the agreement’s new rules.

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