Messages from Chief Lydia Hwitsum
‘Uy’ skweyul Quw’utsun Mustimuhw,
It is starting to feel like spring is around the corner. It is also the one year anniversary of our Council’s election. I lift my hands up to all of my colleagues around our leadership table and extend my appreciation to each of you for all of your work on behalf of our community.
I was pleased to attend the International Marine Protected Areas Congresses (IMPAC) Conference in Vancouver last month. It was an important opportunity to engage with Indigenous, government, and environmental leaders from around the world regarding ocean protection. Water stewardship is essential to the wellbeing of all life. As Quw’utsun Mustimuhw, we know that everything in nature is a part of our family and we are only has healthy as the lands and waters around us.
As you may have seen in the media, I have been advocating and including Jodee Dick, CEO of our Khowutzun Development Corporation (KDC), for many months to advance opportunities for KDC and our citizen-owned companies to gain work on the Cowichan District Hospital Replacement Project. This is a $1.45 billion project in our territory and it has taken a lot of negotiations to try to get subcontracts. These discussions meant work progressed on the project performed by other contractors and resulted in fewer opportunities for our companies. Please see our press releases regarding this work for the latest updates.
Community safety is an ongoing concern. I am working at the Council table, and with Luxumexun (Lands) Department, Sustainable Housing Department, the RCMP, and community to address safety issues. I was pleased to tour the site on Cowichan Bay Road across from the Tennis Club recently to see all the good work done by our staff and Cowichan contractors to clean up the land and make it safer. There have long been concerns of illicit activities, trespassing, and dumping at this location, which is an old village site along a sensitive creek that needs to be respected. It was good to meet with and thank the team members that performed and supported this much needed site remediation.
Huy tseep q’u siem!
Xtli’li ye’ Chief Hwitsum
‘Uy’skweyul Quw’utsun Mustimuhw,
2023 has started off with several important issues being front and centre. First and foremost, I encourage our citizens to see if you qualify for the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement and submit your claim for compensation. A high percentage of our on-reserve residents have lived under drinking water advisories during the timeframe covered by the Settlement (2001-2021) and compensation is based on the type of water advisory you experienced, the location of our community, and the number of years you lived in the community. There is assistance available to complete a claim form before the March 7, 2023 deadline. Our special project clerk Kwut hwum qun (Matthew Louie) is available at: 250‐748‐3196 Ext. 1013 or email: email@example.com. You can submit your claim online by visiting www.firstnationsdrinkingwater.ca or calling toll‐free: 1‐833‐252‐4220.
I have been advocating with Jodee Dick, CEO of Khowutzun Development Corporation (KDC) for many months to secure economic opportunities for Cowichan Citizen-owned companies as part of the Cowichan District Hospital Replacement Project. However, the Community Benefit Agreement that governs the project excludes consideration of Cowichan economic interests. In January, we met again with BC Infrastructure Benefits (BCIB) and the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council (AIRCC) to try to find a solution and remove the barriers preventing KDC and Cowichan companies from participating on the project. We also submitted a second work permit proposal. In the meantime, the scope of work that can be performed by our citizen-owned companies continues to dwindle each week. Learn more in our media statement here.
I also want to promote the work that our Education Jurisdiction Working Group is doing to develop Education Law for our nation. We meet monthly and we will provide updates on this work in the Quw’utsun Newsletter and on our website. This month’s update provides information about the Working Group, Education Law, and the Community Education Authority that will be created under the Education Law. You will have an opportunity to review the proposed law once it is ready and there will be a community ratification process.
Lastly, I am also pleased to report that we hosted a productive Cowichan Watershed Board workshop in January. This was an excellent session to bring together the Board membership, as we have several new representatives from the CVRD, to create a vision for how we work together over the next few years to protect the health of our water‐ shed.
I wish everyone a happy Family Day on February 20th .
Iyus Xew's Sil'anum (Happy New Year)!
I want to start by saying how fantastic it was to see approx. 600 Quw’utsuns attend our December 1st Quw’utsun Community Christmas Dinner at the Si’em Lelum Gymnasium. Over the course of the evening attendees were treated to a beautiful dinner prepared with love by our cooks and an incredible musical performance by Nate Harris. They also enjoyed festive photos at the photo booth. Santa was also on hand and I appreciated seeing kids of all ages joining in the fun! I raise my hands to all of the cooks and our staff who worked so hard to make this event a success.
I want to highlight the work that Jodee Dick, CEO of Khowutzun Development Corporation and i have been been doing to advocate on behalf of our citizens and citizen owned businesses to secure work and contracts on the new Cowichan District Hospital project. We issued a statement in early December in light of opportunities passing by Cowichan contractors and a demonstration at the site. Read the full statement here.
We have since spoken with Premier David Eby. I hope to be able to report back soon that actions are being taken to address the commitments we have been discussing with the Ministry of Health, Island Health, BCIB and the general contractor for months. The new Cowichan District Hospital is an important project for all residents in the Cowichan Valley. It is also an opportunity for the province to build relationships and advance economic reconciliation with our community. Cowichan Tribes and Khowutzun Development Corporation remain committed to working with partners to secure employment and contract opportunities for Cowichan citizens on this project.
I also travelled to Ottawa in December to attend the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly. There were many key topics of discussion, including:
~ Agreeing to combine two resolutions in order to compensate people harmed by the underfunded on‐reserve child‐welfare system.
~ An emergency resolution was passed rejecting the federal government’s gun legislation due to the impact of banning some hunting rifles and negative impacts to our treaty rights.
~ Calling for the Alberta Sovereignty and Saskatchewan First Acts to be withdrawn.
~ Resolutions advancing gender equality for women in leadership were also passed.
I look forward to continuing to work on your behalf to realize the positive potential that this New Year, 2023, can bring for our community.
‘Uy’ skweyul Quw’utsun Mustimuhw,
The province of British Columbia recently announced changes to the Child, Family and Community Service Act and Adoption Act. I was pleased to offer my support for these changes in the news release:
The legislative amendments to the Child, Family and Community Service Act represent a significant step towards reconciliation by recognizing that for the last 150 years, the laws and policies regarding Indigenous children and child welfare have had severe impacts on our Cowichan families. The recognition of our inherent right to govern and provide services for our children and families provides a new and positive path forward. This day heralds the achievement of the goal pursued for many years by successive Chiefs and Councils. Cowichan Tribes look forward to working together with the Province on the implementation of this new direction.
As many in our community are aware, we are developing our own Child and Family Wellness law and you can learn more at https://ourchildlaw.cowichantribes.com/ and in this newsletter. The project team is also creating a series of videos and have just released the first video where I describe the loving and compassionate approach we bring to our child and family services: https://vimeo.com/770827842/ef4a79668e.
We are also making progress on in our work to develop a new education governance model. Council recently approved a recommendation from the Education and Culture Committee to establish a Community Education Authority (CEA). The next step in the process is to develop our education law in order to clarify the responsibilities, composition and membership of the CEA. Our citizens will have an opportunity to review the proposed laws and there will be a community ratification process.
It was a pleasure to attend the Youth Services Open House on November 22nd. I am thrilled that our youth once again have a dedicated space to gather and participate in regular programming. I also encourage youth to sign up for the Youth Council which meets on Wednesdays from 5:00 pm – 6:00pm. To sign up, please contact: Leon.Johnny@cowichantribes.com. Youth Services is located at 5408 Stotlou Road and is offering a number of programs, so be sure to check out their schedules available in the December Quw'utsun Newsletter.
Meli Klismas (Merry Christmas)!
It was wonderful to connect with so many of you at our Annual Audit Meeting on October 19th. The meeting was held both in person and by Zoom. We talked about the highlights and financial statements from the 2021-2022 fiscal year, both of which are featured in our Annual Report. I was pleased to have this opportunity to both speak with our community members about what was accomplished, and hear from participants about their priorities. Looking ahead, I am well aware that we have much more work to do and I am committed to improving the lives of our people, especially our Elders and our youth. We will have the questions and answers from the event printed in an upcoming newsletter, and have included some photos from the event in this edition.
Our community and our Council members are very concerned about safety, the poisoned drug supply, and drug houses. Specifically related to drug activity on reserve, I have been in contact with the RCMP and am working to get the full allocation of officers dedicated to our community in place. We need to develop a long-term strategy so we can all play a role in addressing these issues. I look forward to talking more with our community about this in the future.
Lastly, both flu and COVID-19 are circulating in our community. Ts’ewultun Health held a successful three day drive thru and walk up flu and COVID vaccine clinic in October. For anyone not able to attend one of our clinics, I encourage you to book a vaccine appointment by calling (250) 715-1024 or book online at: www.tsewulhtunhealth.janeapp.com.
Hwial’asmut ch tun’ s-ye’lh (Take care of your health)
Every Child Matters March
At the second annual Every Child Matters March on September 30th, Chief Hwitsum encouraged everyone to "be messengers, to be witnesses, and to spread a word of understanding and a word of love for all of us to find our way forward."
Here is an excerpt of her remarks.
Cowichan Tribes Welcomes Cindy Daniels as Acting Chief Administrative Officer
October 13, 2022
Today, Chief Lydia Hwitsum announced a transition in Cowichan Tribes’ senior administration. “Please join me in welcoming Cindy Daniels as Acting Chief Administrative Officer,” said Chief Hwitsum. “Cindy is a highly-qualified professional and I appreciate her stepping into this role. As many of you will recall, she previously served as our General Manager between April 2017 and September 2018. She is also a well-respected member of our Quw’utsun community and has served as a long-term Councillor and as Acting Chief for several months in 2021,” added Chief Hwitsum.
Ms. Daniels has taken leave from her role on Cowichan Tribes’ Council while serving as Acting Chief Administrative Officer. “I look forward to continuing to support our nation’s important work of providing services and programs for Quw’utsun Mustimuhw, as well as working with our staff and partners to advance the many key self-governance initiatives that we are pursuing,” said Cindy Daniels.
Drought renews urgency for action on Cowichan Lake Weir
October 22, 2022
I am pleased to share an excerpt from a letter my Cowichan Watershed Board co-chair, Lori Iannidinardo and I wrote regarding the urgent need to move the Cowichan Weir replacement project forward. The full text can be found in the Times Colonist.
The Cowichan Lake Weir is a seasonal dam that has regulated water flow from spring to fall since 1957. Licensed and operated by Paper Excellence, it is used to store water and control the outflow from the lake into the Cowichan River, providing water for both the pulp mill and the river ecosystem through the dry months.
The mill’s water licence requires that river flows must be maintained above critical fish habitat thresholds, but increasingly, that requirement has been physically impossible to meet due to changing weather patterns. After decades of study, a broad consensus has emerged that we must work together to raise that weir.
If no action is taken, it is likely that in many years, the Cowichan River will not support fall salmon returns. A river without fish is an unacceptable outcome for Cowichan Tribes, who have stewarded and been sustained by the river and its salmon runs for millennia.
Most other southeastern Vancouver Island rivers lack such an opportunity to store water for the vital fall flows that bring the salmon home. The weir on Cowichan Lake has the potential to be the lynchpin of climate mitigation for southern Vancouver Island rivers, but only if it is rebuilt to meet our current climate reality.
This is not a new issue. For more than 30 years people in the region have been conducting studies and calling on authorities to take action.
In 2017-2018, a formal water use planning process was completed, engaging a diverse group of knowledge holders, affected residents and government representatives to review the extensive studies and options.
This group reached a clear consensus for the first time: A new weir is needed to provide 70 centimetres of additional water storage. Building on that, thanks to funding from the Canada-B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, and project leadership from the regional government, the recommended infrastructure upgrade is now designed and shovel-ready.
This year, Cowichan Tribes, the CVRD and Paper Excellence signed a memorandum of understanding articulating our commitment to work as partners to pursue a water conservation licence for the additional water storage.
The time is now for the province to fulfil their commitment to help us complete this project. The new weir fits perfectly in the current government’s goals and mandates — to reconciliation, climate adaptation, economic sustainability and watershed security. We look forward to B.C.’s support to get this project over the finish line. This includes resourcing and assuming potential liabilities associated with the project.
If significant rain does not come soon, the Cowichan River may sadly be on “life support” again this fall, with electric pumps trying to do what nature should, ushering our salmon relatives home to lay their eggs for the next generation.
Doing nothing is not an option. A higher weir is needed, and needed now. This is a golden opportunity to inspire and demonstrate to all British Columbians what a community-driven solution to climate change adaptation and reconciliation looks like.
With all levels of government working together, we can and will safeguard the future of the Cowichan River and the communities that depend on it.
Si’em nu’ Khowutzun Mustimuhw,
Graduates of 2022: I would like to “Congratulate” all of our graduating students of 2022. You are setting a good example for the rest of the community. I wish you many successes in your future endeavors, this is a great milestone to start pursuing your educational and career goals set on your path. Keep shooting for the stars, our community needs you.
Aboriginal Day Celebration: I would like to thank our organizers for planning the Aboriginal Day event at the Si’em Lelum. It was nice so see our members enjoying the activities, sharing a meal together and being able to visit with one another. The pandemic has taken a toll on our community of all ages, was nice to see everyone enjoy themselves.
Celebrating Watershed Restoration Project Completion While Planning for the Future:
“Nutsamat kws yaay’us the qa’ – we come together as a whole to work together to be stronger as partners for the watershed,” explains Chief Lydia Hwitsum. “The Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers have always played an integral role in the wellbeing of Cowichan people. We need to work together with all jurisdictions to improve the rivers, protect our communities from future flooding events, and restore fish habitat.”
The Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers are at the heart of Cowichan Tribes. However, these rivers have been greatly affected by climate change as well as human impact. “This is an important opportunity to demonstrate recognition and respect for Cowichan jurisdiction and leadership,” says Chief Lydia Hwitsum. “This level of investment, collaboration and shared decision making is crucial. I am thankful for the investments that have been made by all partners. We must continue this level of collaboration and recognition, as we face climate change and seek meaningful reconciliation with each other as well as our natural systems that support us.”
Respecting the important role of these rivers in our community’s history, and wanting to preserve them for the future, in 2021 Cowichan Tribes completed $3 million in watershed restoration work. This work included the removal of over 4,140 truckloads of gravel as well as significant log jams.
Read the full press release here.
Have a safe and healthy summer.
Si’em nu’ Khowutzun Mustimuhw,
I would like to thank our Cowichan members who came out to the elections and voted on February 25, 2022. I will continue to be a strong voice for our community, especially our elders and youth.
I raise my hands to William Seymour (Chip) for all of his hard work and dedication to the community during his term in the office, and his council members. I would like to congratulate the new council of this term and the candidates who ran in the past election. I look forward to working with our newly elected council and Ron Minks, Chief Administrative Officer, as we work towards building a stronger, healthier community.
I am currently serving my second term on the First Nations Summit Political Executive Team which is mandated to carry out specific tasks related to Aboriginal Title and Rights negotiations with British Columbia and Canada and other issues of common concern to First Nations in British Columbia.
March 2, 2022 was the official date for Chief and Council to be sworn into office with Judge Cutler. Our Chief and Council meetings are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month. We have held two meetings and have appointed our committees and boards.