Up Mount Ozzard, trail building hums along in tandem with decolonization.
Back in July 2020, Ucluelet Mountain Bike Association (UMBA) signed a landmark License of Occupation (LOO) agreement between Ucluelet First Nation (UFN) to develop a network of mountain bike trails on UFN Treaty Lands.
“The signing of the License Of Occupation agreement with the Ucluelet Mountain Bike Association is an important positive step forward for our Nation and one that I support. We are looking forward to seeing how the partnership develops, as it is still in the early stages. We appreciate that the UMBA has officially recognized our title on the land, and we have retained 100 per cent decision making authority on anything that UMBA wishes to do regarding the trails. We will continue to engage in work with the UMBA and rely on the expertise of Markus, for building these trails and supporting our Youth with skill development,” noted UFN President Charles McCarthy, with reference to the September edition of the Umacuk, the Nation’s newsletter.
Markus Rannala is the president of the non-profit UMBA. From day one, Rannala says UMBA has operated with the mandate that trail building would not proceed without consent from local First Nations.
“Our sincere hope is that UFN finds a great deal of value in these projects as well for their youth and for their community. We are committed to fostering that relationship,” he told the Westerly.
Since incorporating as a non-profit in the spring of 2020, UMBA volunteers have put in about 2,000 volunteer hours of work on the trails. In the shoulder season, they received a $15,000 grant from Tourism Vancouver Island’s Catalyst Fund, which enabled UMBA to provide paid positions to a rotating roster of UFN youth trail building crew.
“The backbone of every mountain bike trail network is volunteer work. [UMBA] differs from other projects in that it is generally the users that are out their building. Involving the First Nations youth in a project on their land from square one with an end game of providing meaningfully annual employment makes for a very different type of community infrastructure project,” said Rannala.
Patrick Lucas is a community planner and the founder of the Youth Indigenous Mountain Bike program. He works with B.C. Indigenous youth on trail building projects and educates groups on how to foster relationships between First Nations and non-Indigenous communities.
“Colonialism and recreation has always been kind of linked. I always use Oka as an example. Oka was the huge crisis and led to a 78-day stand off because the municipality wanted to expand a (golf course) development into a cemetery and land that had long been claimed by Mohawk and it had been taken from them by the municipality,” Lucas said.
“If you look here in B.C. Sun Peaks, a really popular mountain bike destination, that was land that was claimed sacred by the Neskonlith people. They fought back against the development. Many of them were arrested and they went to jail. You can look at that all across Canada. Whether it’s golf course, ski resorts, mountain bike trails, a lot of it has been really geared to non-Indigenous people, particularly white people, European people, and playing on the land at the expense of Indigenous rights and title,” he went on to say.
UMBA reached out to Lucas for guidance when they were getting started.
“UMBA did things in a good way. I’m really impressed they came to an agreement on how to develop the trails on that land and make sure it’s done in a good way. For me, it’s about disrupting that process where, nowadays, if someone wants to build a trail on a.k.a. Crown land or unceded territory, they usually just go to the Province and the Province issues them a permit. Well, where did that authority come from? I encourage clubs to go to the First Nations first, get their authority. Work with them, make sure that the benefits are flowing to their people,” said Lucas.
UMBA now has 75 members. Rannala says he’s looking forward to working with UFN on mutually beneficial projects for all communities and all local residents.
“We envision a trail network where one day the same Ucluelet First Nation youth will be able to find meaningful, full-time employment in annual maintenance positions and guiding jobs,” he said.
UMBA dreams of building a trail network that stretches from Ucluelet all the way to Toquaht Bay. Discussions with the Barkley Community Forest Corporation (BCFC), a partnership between Toquaht Nation and the District of Ucluelet, are ongoing, notes Rannala.
“The BCFC Board supports UMBA’s efforts to build bike trails and we are working with them to get permits for the site but must wait for approvals before any work can be done in the Community Forest. We are hopeful that together we will be able to overcome the impediments and the project will be able to proceed,” said BCFC chair Terry Smith.