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Tofino, local band set to sign landmark water pact

In a town squeezed by intense development pressure, a unique deal to share control over land and water will be signed tonight between the district of Tofino and a local native band.

The community, one of B.C.'s hottest resort spots, has effectively traded on its breathtaking waterfront and environmental values.

But success outstripped its infrastructure, to the point that Tofino ran out of tap water in the summer of 2006.

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Under the agreement to be signed at a community dinner tonight, the district and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations will create a joint sustainability plan.

It means land-use planning and management of the water supply must respect traditional native values. It also ensures the band gets a piece of the economic action in future development.

"This is about how best we can get along, and how we can all benefit from what we have out here," Tofino Mayor John Fraser said yesterday.

Long before the community took off as a high-priced resort town - second only to Whistler in B.C. - Tofino was at the centre of environmental battles over Clayoquot Sound and Meares Island.

Those battles reflect an interest in sustainability shared by the community of about 1,600 and the Tla-o-qui-aht people, Mr. Fraser said.

"I don't think there's a lot of difference; our values are the same. We are dealing with such pressure of outside people here with all the tourism, it's hard to keep the identity of a small community."

The agreement includes a distinctive commitment from the district to uphold Nuu-chah-nulth tribal principles in development.

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The protocol agreement that will be signed by the band leaders and the district council includes, for example, a promise to respect the rules of Hishuk ish tsawalk - "that everything is one and all is interconnected."

The next step will be to launch a community planning process that will allow input from the public and interest groups in the district, adjacent to Pacific Rim National Park.

Although a municipal government can't negotiate land claims, the document recognizes the band's claim to title in its traditional territories and its right to self-government.

The Tla-o-qui-aht are trying to revive treaty negotiations with the province, on the heels of a settlement with the neighbouring Maa-nulth First Nations.

The district has promised, as part of the deal, to support the band in its bid to acquire Crown lands for development in an interim-measures agreement with the province and the federal government.

The proposed land deal, essentially a bridge to a treaty settlement, would allow the Tla-o-qui-aht to develop a cultural centre that would offer more tourism opportunities.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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