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North Cowichan and Quw’utsun Nation talks on forest reserve fall behind, FOI documents reveal

Municipality remains committed to “principles and spirit” of Memorandum of Understanding

North Cowichan and Quw’utsun Nation talks on future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve continue to fall far behind the pace agreed to in a Memorandum of Understanding.

The MOU signed by both parties on Aug. 17, 2021, called for creation of a Working Group that would meet “at least monthly” — with the “first meeting within 14 days.”

But that never happened. Not even close.

Freedom-of-information documents obtained by show that the first meeting did not occur until Feb. 28, 2022 — more than six months behind schedule.

And in the 2.5 years since the MOU was signed, just eight meetings have been held between North Cowichan and Quw’utsun Nation.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Apr. 4, 2024.

Quw’utsun Nation is comprised of Cowichan Tribes and the Halalt, Lyackson, Penelakut and Stz’uminus First Nations.

The FOI documents provide a list of representatives at each meeting.

At the last meeting, on Nov. 14, 2023, the list included:

— Eamon Gaunt, Treaty Negotiator, Cowichan Tribes (Quw’utsun Nation)

— Eduardo Sousa, Referral Coordinator, Cowichan Tribes (Quw’utsun Nation)

— Josh James, Economic Development Officer/Councillor, Penelakut Tribe (Quw’utsun Nation)

—Karyn Scott, Consultations Coordinator, Lyackson First Nation (Quw’utsun Nation)

— Shana Thomas, Treaty Consultation, Lyackson First Nation, representing Halalt (Quw’utsun Nation)

—Ted Swabey, Chief Administrative Officer, North Cowichan

— Barb Floden, Manager, Communications and Public Engagement, North Cowichan

— Shaun Mason, Manager, Parks and Forestry, North Cowichan

— Neil Pukesh, Director, Parks and Recreation, North Cowichan

— Terri Brennan, Executive Assistant, North Cowichan (Admin. Support for Working Group)

The talks are being held in private, with little indication of what is being discussed or what mandate North Cowichan representatives have received from council.


Swabey told Wednesday that the meetings to date have been productive and that the Municipality remains committed to the “principles and spirit” of the MOU.

He said “our priority has always been flexibility, ensuring engagement is meaningful rather than strictly adhering to a fixed schedule.

“Quality interactions are paramount for effective collaboration and achieving our shared goals. We also anticipate that the MOU will be modified over time as we explore our relationships of mutual interest further.”

Gaunt could not be reached for comment.

The MOU states that the Municipality must cover the cost of the talks.

The Municipality said in response: “Staff have advised that given the meetings were held via Zoom or Webex, there has been no additional cost to the Municipality to date for this process, other than staff time.”

The Municipality is under no legal obligation to hold talks with First Nations, but is doing so in the spirit of reconciliation. Further reading:

Last year, in a separate consultation, the public voted overwhelmingly to support conservation management of the forest reserve:

The MOU took more than a year to complete, during which time council shut down the public consultation. The MOU may be terminated by either party with two weeks’ notice.

Read the MOU:

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— Larry Pynn, Feb. 28, 2024

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