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opinion

Derek Peters is the head hereditary chief of Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Robert Dennis is elected chief councillor.

While many First Nations communities have expressed their strong opposition to the recent federal approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline, the government of the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, located on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, stands behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's difficult decision.

As a self-governing, modern treaty nation, we recognize that Mr. Trudeau's recent pipeline announcements endeavour to balance economic development and environmental protection.

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The Huu-ay-aht have three core principles that guide all aspects of our lives. These are:

iisaak – respect with caring;

hish-uk tsawak – everything is one;

uu-a-thluk – taking care of present and future generations.

With these guiding principles in mind, the Huu-ay-aht see the federal announcements as a first step on the long and difficult road to reconciliation between Canada and First Nations.

As our Tayii Ha'wilth Tliishin (head hereditary chief Derek Peters) tells us, "These decisions are never easy. The Huu-ay-aht respects everyone's right to their own opinion. That said, it is the responsibility of governments to enable economic development while protecting the environment, in both the short and the long term."

The federal government was tasked to make decisions in the short term on the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals, as well as the oil-tanker moratorium, and the Huu-ay-aht government respects its mandate to do so. We also respect those nations and their members who disagree with these decisions and their prerogative to pursue all available legal remedies to stop these decisions.

Our key concern is to ensure that the fallout from these necessary short-term economic and environmental decisions do not bring the hard work of pursuing long-term reconciliation to a standstill. All First Nations, whether or not we are directly impacted by these announcements, have an interest in long-term reconciliation.

We have experienced the massive negative impacts of large-scale industrial forestry on our territory and industrial fisheries on our waters. For many years, our relationship with government and industry was strained. However, that has not dampened our resolve to continue work on finding ways to build long-term co-management relationships with the very governments and industrial players that were responsible for these negative impacts.

Canada is in a time of transition with the economy, the environment and with First Nations reconciliation. A nation-to-nation relationship takes considerable commitment and time to build. We must not let strong differences in the short term stand in the way of our mutual long-term goal of ensuring that First Nations take their rightful place in this country. The way we say it in our culture is that we must find ways to paddle in the same direction in order to move the canoe forward.

We are the first to agree that the environmental-review process for major projects and the process and approach to engagement with First Nations needs a major overhaul. We are committed to working with First Nations, government and industry to make that happen in a good way. And to continue that work, even if we have differences (some quite fundamental), regarding the short-term decisions and actions of government and industry.

With respect,

Tayii Ha'wilth Tliishin