Fireworks lit up the night sky one minute after midnight Friday, as members of five Vancouver Island first nations marked a historic milestone with the implementation of a modern-day treaty.
The Maa-nulth treaty was 20 years in the making for the five bands that represent about 2,500 people near the communities of Bamfield, Port Alberni, Campbell River and Ucluelet.
"This is our new beginning," Chuck McCarthy, president of the Yuulu'il'ath Nation, said in a news release.
He said the treaty process has been a long journey, but "it feels good knowing that we are in charge of our future."
Under the agreement, the Ucluelet, Toquaht, Uchucklesaht, Ka:'yu:'k'th'/Che:k'tles7et'h, and Huu-ay-aht bands get a land settlement of 24,550 hectares, $73-million over 10 years, annual resource revenue payments between $600,000 and $1.8-million, and an additional $900,000 over five years.
They will also receive $10.5-million a year in continuing funding for programs and services, as well $47.9-million for implementation of the treaty.
But most important of all to the bands, they gain powers of self-government that give them control over their land and resources, taxation rights and freedom from the jurisdiction of the federal Indian Act, other than in the determination of Indian status.
"On Nuu-waas-sus [Our Day]we look forward to meeting the challenges of self-government with both fear and excitement," Therese Smith, legislative chief of the Ka:'yu:'k't'h'/Che:k'tles7et'h', said in a statement.
"Our treaty has fast-tracked our path to independence and self-reliance in the aftermath of the residential school era and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. We no longer look to or are controlled by INAC [Indian and Northern Affairs Canada] we are now fully accountable to ourselves, for our own destiny."
The Maa-nulth are part of Vancouver Island's 14-member Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, but the five bands decided to negotiate a treaty as a separate group after an earlier Nuu-chah-nulth treaty failed.
The agreement is only the second modern-day treaty in British Columbia, where unlike other provinces the colonial government for the most part did not sign treaties with First Nations hundreds of years ago as they settled the land. The two-year-old Tsawwassen First Nation treaty was the first, while the majority of native bands in the province are still waiting.
There are currently 60 B.C. first nations in treaty talks, with seven in the final stages, although the pace of successful negotiations has slowed to a near standstill in recent years.
The Maa-nulth, however, will continue celebrations of their treaty and gather Saturday for a ceremony involving representatives of the provincial and federal governments, as well as the B.C. Treaty Commission.