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Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation welcomes Justin Trudeau back to Tofino

“Many of you reporters are probably wondering what we’re going to do as Tla-o-qui-aht people.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Councillor Elmer Frank made tentative amends during a meeting in Tofino on Saturday. (Photo - Andrew Bailey)

Justin Trudeau arrived in Tofino on Saturday afternoon.

The Canadian Prime Minister had spent the morning touring the Gulf Islands Park Reserve on a kayak before arriving on the West Coast for two roundtable meetings—one with elected officials and business leaders from Tofino and Ucluelet and the other with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

Both meetings took place at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort, which is owned and operated by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation that banned Trudeau from their territory in September 2016 over a significant fisheries dispute between the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Councillor Elmer Frank wrote a letter to the PM’s office at the time to advise Trudeau was not welcome on Tla-o-qui-aht land until he began acting on his election campaign’s promise of reconciliation with First Nations, according to the Nuu-chah-nulth owned Ha-Shilth-Sa newspaper.

Immediately prior to Saturday’s meeting, Frank explained Trudeau would be welcomed.

“Many of you reporters are probably sitting there wondering what we’re going to do as Tla-o-qui-aht people because we said, ‘Justin Trudeau is no longer welcome in our territory,’ and that was the result of a meeting we had in the fall,” Frank said.

“Since the time that we made that statement, there’s been significant movement. Not significant enough yet for a fisher to go out and make a tangible living, but it was significant enough for us to be able to demonstrate that there is some reconciliation hope for Tla-o-qui-aht and for the Nuu-chah-nulth Nations that are involved…We need to be mindful that we’re in a day and age now where we need to work together; no one’s going away.”

Trudeau thanked Frank and suggested patience is needed on the path to reconciliation.

“This process of reconciliation and building a future—and I understand your impatience that you wanted to get done overnight what took generations and centuries to go terribly wrong—is going to take more than a few months to get right,” Trudeau said.

“I deeply appreciate the respect you’ve shown for me today and I look forward to continuing to work with you and making sure my government continues to work with you. Recognizing as well that Nation to Nation relationship is not just about government to First Nations…It’s also about non-Indigenous Canadians being an essential part of the reconciliation path.”

Earlier in the day, Trudeau attended a meeting with both Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques along with Tofino-Long Beach Chamber of Commerce president Jennifer Steven, Wickaninnish Inn President Charles McDiarmid and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns.

“Obviously, we know Tofino is a wonderful spot for tourism. There are also challenges related to that and related to other businesses and other economic opportunities that are important to highlight,” Trudeau said. “I’m very pleased to be able to sit down and collaborate across all levels of government and indeed across political parties.”

After the business roundtable, McDiarmid told the Westerly he was thrilled with how it had gone.

“The Prime Minister is interested in hearing from people on the ground in the destinations and places around the country and that’s, I think, very positive,” he said.

“In any federal government system, things get concentrated in the capital and you don’t always hear from the people on the ground that are dealing with the issues day to day that we have and he’s engaged in those and interested in them and wanted to know more about them.”

St. Jacques said it was “absolutely awesome” of the Prime Minister to take the time to meet with local leaders.

“He was very engaged. He seemed interested in what we had to say and we talked about many issues,” she said.

She said a key concern Ucluelet raised was the closure of the Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Communication and Traffic Services Centre in 2012 and said Trudeau promised he would review the facility’s shut down.

St. Jacques added that potential federal funding for resort municipalities, similar to the province’s Resort Municipality Initiative funding, was also discussed.

“To assist us very tiny communities in providing the infrastructure for thousands and thousands of people every night,” she explained. “He acknowledged it and, I believe, we’ll have some conversation about it.”

Osborne said Trudeau was “cordial, receptive and easy to talk to,” and actively listened to a variety of local concerns put forward.

“We talked about many things from big picture issues, like setting the tone for reconciliation across Canada and the efforts that we’re making here in this region and the relationships that we have with First Nations, to smaller topics that might be of more regional, or local, focus,” she said adding she was surprised Trudeau held the meetings rather than just starting his vacation right away.

“It certainly wasn’t expected to be able to do this,” she said.

“I know he’s on holiday and I respect that and we want to give him the space and time he needs to rest and probably recuperate from a tough year of politics and spend some time with his family, but I know our MP Gord Johns worked really hard to help pull this off and I’m really grateful to both the Prime Minister’s office and our MP for making this happen for us.”

Johns said it was important for Trudeau to hear from local voices.

“He’s made a lot of promises and we have yet to see any action. We’ve talked about marine debris. We’ve talked about the environment. We’ve talked about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. We’ve talked about rural communities. We’ve talked about housing. We haven’t seen any action on these fronts,” Johns said adding he hoped hearing about the West Coast’s issues firsthand would prompt action from the Prime Minister.

“We can be hopeful, but at the same time we have to be persistent and we won’t be letting up,” he said. “These meetings set the stage for us to follow up with him taking action to help address our communities’ needs and I’ll be doing just that.”

Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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