For the first time since 1999, the Premier of British Columbia made a trek to Lax Kw’alaams to visit the Tsimshian Nation, which used to be named Port Simpson.
Last Wednesday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Deputy Premier Rich Coleman marked their visit to the First Nations village with a celebration of the completion of the paving of Tuck Inlet Road – a $20 million, 17.5-kilometre project.
As well, the Premier and Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin and council signed an agreement that sees the province fund eight new seniors’ affordable housing units and 10 new affordable housing family units in the village.
The province will foot the bill of $4.8 million between the two projects, with construction to begin this year and be completed in 2018.
During their visit, the premier and deputy premier also visited Coast Tsimshian Academy school, a newly-built two-storey, 2,005-sq. metre building constructed to handle expected growth in the community.
The visit marked a new beginning of relations between the province and the band, one which needs each other in order to successfully move into the 21st century together, said both officials from both sides.
“It’s not often we get somebody like Premier Christy Clark and Mr. Coleman come visit us, so that tells you we’re special. Or they need us,” Mayor Helin joked at a public meeting with members.
“I think we need them and it’s about working together going forward … It’s the partnerships you develop along the way that make our successes greater,” he said.
“It’s about our ability to work with people, even though we disagree at certain times about how things are done. We’ve always said the environment is the most important thing to us and we’ve never wavered from that, so going forward [it’s about] looking at the opportunities that present themselves to us and being able to take advantage of them,” he said, adding that council has signed a number of agreements with the province for benefits without ever signing a final go-ahead deal with Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Premier Clark called mayor and council’s work for the community “courageous” in representing the members through turbulent times, and offered her hand in partnership with the Lax Kw’alaams community moving forward.
“I’m honoured to be welcomed so warmly to Lax Kw’alaams territory today. This is a transformative time for British Columbia and the Lax Kw’alaams community,” she said.
“First Nations communities, like every community, like every citizen across the province, want the ability to build your own future, based on the vision that you have for your children. And I don’t mean a vision that is set out to you by another level of government, I mean a vision that is your creation, that is your future. Because that is what your children are depending on you to do,” the premier added.
The province has so far invested $9 million in the Tsimshian Round Table in supporting training for Tsimshian workers, and $700,000 in wages from the Tuck Inlet Road paving project was returned to the community through its workers, Premier Clark said.