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Failure to meet deadline raises questions about memorandum of understanding

The paint on a memorandum of understanding signed between North Cowichan and First Nations is barely dry, yet it is already showing some wear.

The MOU signed August 17, 2021, related to future discussions on the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve and called for creation of a Working Group to conduct closed meetings “at least monthly” — with the “first meeting within 14 days.”

It is now more than two months since signing of the document — long past the deadline that all parties committed to — raising questions about yet more delays in the consultation process on the forest reserve.

The MOU took more than a year to complete, during which time council shut down a parallel public consultation on the forest reserve.

“As of today’s date, the Working Group has not yet held a meeting,” Alyssa Meiner, Information Management Officer for North Cowichan, confirmed in a letter Monday. filed a freedom-of-information request seeking documents related to positions put forward by the various parties on the Working Group as well as minutes/decisions of their meetings. The documents provided have been heavily redacted, the municipality citing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Said Meiner: “North Cowichan anticipates that the Working Group will consider at its first meeting whether the minutes, or portions thereof, can be made available to the public on North Cowichan’s website.”

According to the MOU, North Cowichan and Cowichan Nation can each name up to six staff members to the Working Group. Signatories to the agreement included Cowichan Tribes and the Halalt, Lyackson, Penelakut and Stz’uminus First Nations.

One might reasonably question whether the sheer number of parties to the MOU, complexities of schedules, and differing priorities are making coordination difficult.

The two main contacts listed in the MOU are Ted Swabey, Chief Administrative Officer for North Cowichan, and Eamon Gaunt, Treaty Analyst for Cowichan Tribes.

Swabey issued a written statement to on Tuesday: “Both parties remain very committed to the MOU principles and the process outlined in the document. While we had hoped to initiate the first meeting within two weeks of signing the document, we have come to realize this was an ambitious proposition given the complexity of securing membership from all Nations that are part of the MOU.

“The delays in no way diminish the desire to start this important process, relationship building, and learning opportunities for all parties of the MOU.”

In the FOI documents, Gaunt tells Swabey in a May 25, 2021, email: “Cowichan Tribes has been signed but am unsure as to the status of the other communities.”

On June 10, uncertainty remains. Swabey says in an email to Gaunt: “I’m checking on the status of the MOU and the individual resolutions from Band Councils. Can you advise if you have received any resolutions back from the individual Band Councils and if you know when this document would be going to the next Cowichan Nation Chiefs Meeting for approval and processing back to North Cowichan?”

On July 21, Swabey writes Gaunt again: “We have a Council meeting this afternoon and I have been asked to provide an update on the status of the signing of the MOU. Can you tell me if it has been signed by all the Cowichan Nation Alliance Chiefs.”

Full text of the MOU:

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— Larry Pynn, Oct. 26, 2021


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