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NEWS: Tensions over water licenses escalate in Nanaimo

The Nanaimo Daily News reports, “The Harmac pulp mill will not bow out of water-sharing discussions with the City of Nanaimo, despite threats of an impending lawsuit. Snuneymuxw First Nation officials announced Monday it will launch court action to challenge the lawfulness of water licences held by Harmac, owned by Nanaimo Forest Products. Action has been threatened since early February, when Chief Douglas White believed a water-sharing agreement would be struck between the city and Harmac without the consent or involvement of the band. He claims the licences have been infringing on First Nation water rights for years, leading to ‘Third World’ conditions on the No. 2 reserve near Cedar.”

“In a statement, White said a lawsuit will challenge Nanaimo Forest Products and the province about existing water licences for the Nanaimo River which are in violation of the Douglas Treaty of 1854. White said they want to claim their territorial rights, which would allow them to fish and use water currently tied up in water licences.”

“Chief White said he was assured by Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan at a press conference Feb. 6 no deal would be signed without the band’s approval. On Monday, Mayor Ruttan wrote in a letter that the Snuneymuxw would be consulted in good faith but council was not prepared to give them a ‘veto’ on the final agreement. Harmac president Levi Sampson said the uproar over the letter and resulting court action will not deter discussions about a water agreement. He also remains confident the company is ‘on strong footing’ with its water licences.”

“There are only two options to expand the water supply, including a water-sharing agreement and new dam in the South Fork watershed, according to city officials. They’ve been scrambling to start on a solution, calling the situation ‘urgent’ with the population expected to outgrow out the current supply by 2020.”

In previous news reports, Chief White has stated, “For half a century (the water rights held by Harmac) has been dispossessed of us. I think it of it as analogous to the handing over of southeastern Vancouver Island to the Dunsmuir family to build a railway in the late 19th century. That’s the scale and scope of the dispossession and the impact on my people’s way of life. …I will not allow the broken, old patterns of conduct from the 19th century and 20th century to be repeated today.”