The Hupacasath First Nations traditional territory is very grand compared to other Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. The territory is approximately 229,000 hectares, which engulfs the whole Alberni Valley. The boundaries for this territory are basically the mountain peaks from the Alberni Valley, which start from the north at Mt. Chief Frank, from the south at 5040 Peak and Hannah Mountain, from the east at Mt. Arrowsmith and Mt Spencer, and from the west from Big Interior Mountain. This territory contains some of the most valuable forest, fish and marine resources in the world. The winds formed by the warm offshore currents of the Pacific Ocean create a tepid maritime climate with a summer dry period. This creates vast forests of western red cedar, yellow cedar, Douglas fir, hemlock and balsam. The lakes and rivers contain all five species of Pacific Salmon as well as Steelhead and Trout.
Inside the Hupacasath territory there are five reserves. Ahahswinis (Reserve #1) is located on the north side of the Somass River in Port Alberni. This is the main village of the Hupacasath tribe. In the past the people here conducted several activities such as hunting, fishing, potlatching, berry and fruit picking etc. Currently this reserve is home to the majority of the Hupacasath people and some of the people still conduct some of the activities on this reserve that their ancestors did in the past as well.
Kleekhoot (Reserve #2) is situated on the Stamp and Sproat Rivers just west of Sproat Lake. In the past, this place was used for mainly fishing purposes such as spearing fish, trapping fish in weirs, and preparing fish. Other activities done on this reserve were hunting, potlatching and berry picking. Today this place is home to a few Hupacasath Band members and there is still fishing and hunting in the area.
The third Hupacasath reserve in the territory is Cous (Reserve # 3). It is located on the west side of the Alberni Inlet adjacent to Lone Tree Point. There used to be a nice seasonal settlement at this place but it is now bare. This is a result of a death of a chief at this place. Chief Dan Watts died accidentally one day at Cous and after his death everyone left this place. This reserve was used for hunting and fishing purposes primarily. Today there is no one living there but people still go there to do activities such as picnicking, fishing and hunting. Chu-ca-ca-cook (Reserve # 4) is the smallest Hupacasath reserve. It is located on the west side of the Alberni Inlet just north of Nahmint Bay. This place used to be a fishing site and stop over spot for the Hupacasath people. In recent years however, there has been very little activity or inhabitance there.
Lastly, there is Nettle Island (Reserve # 5). This reserve is outside the Hupacasath territory in the Broken Group Islands in Barkley Sound. This property was purchased from Arthur Maynard in the early 1900s. It was purchased because the Hupacasath people traveled down the inlet to Barkley Sound frequently to conduct business with other First Nations (i.e. trade and barter), to visit relatives, and to attend potlatches held in the area. Today Nettle Island is used for camping and seafood gathering. In addition, it is now part of the Pacific Rim National Park. Therefore, tourists from all over the world now travel to and around Nettle Island to partake in activities such as camping, fishing and kayaking
The mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and the nearby ocean have been the source of the prosperity, health and spiritual wellness of the Hupacasath First Nation since the beginning of time. In the 21st Century, that reverence for Nature has evolved alongside the economic realities of job creation and community development. Stewardship of its traditional territory for the future, not financial gain for the short term is at the heart of all Hupacasath First Nation development activities. With this time honored business model the HFN have embarked on some of the most environmentally sensitive, yet technologically advanced revenue generating projects ever embraced by a First Nations people.
Electrical Generation: One of the jewels in the Hupačasath First Nation’s economic crown is its unique green ‘run of river’ electrical power generating facility on China Creek. Located just outside of Port Alberni the facility is operated by the Upnit Power Corporation (UPC) an entity 72.5 per cent owned by the HFN. The operation began generating electrical power in 2005, becoming the first Aboriginal community in BC to be majority-owners and operators of a hydro project in the province. Today, the project is hailed as a model of Aboriginal resolve, environmental stewardship and an ability to create mutually beneficial partnerships with industry, municipal government, financial institutions and other First Nations.
The $14-million project was financed with $5 million in equity and over $9 million in debt financing, which was facilitated by UPC’s Energy Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro. The plant is capable of generating 6.5 megawatts (MW) of power at peak operation, enough electricity to power 6,000 homes. All power generated by the plant is sold through a 20 year Electrical Purchase Agreement to BC Hydro.
Fisheries: The link between the ocean and its rich bounty and the Hupacasath First Nation’s people has existed throughout its history. As part of the HFN’s economic mix the development of a commercial fisheries corporation was a natural development. For years the Bands Fishermen have sold their catch to buyers and processors who have capitalized on all the other parts of the fresh fish markets. The band saw the opportunity to develop a commercial fishing business The corporation’s in partnership with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and its Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative Canada (PICFI) program.
PICFI was aimed at achieving environmentally sustainable and economically viable commercial fisheries that provide increased opportunities for First Nations involvement. The $175-million program was originally slated to run between 2008 and 2012, but has been extended as part of the 2012 federal budget and Economic Action Plan. Traditionally the Hupačasath were a sea-going people and utilized all sea resources down the inlet and through Barkley Sound and beyond and continue to do so today.
Forestry: While the Hupacasath First Nation’s people are known for their links to the sea and its rich bounty, the people are also equally at home on land. Since time immemorial they have worked with the rich forests of the Alberni Valley for their shelter, clothing, food and other needs. In the 21st Century that connection with the forest has transformed into another spoke on the HFN’s economic wheel, in the form of its forestry operations. In July 2012, HFN signed an agreement with the Provincial Government that increased its access to timber from 400 to 2,400 hectares. This dramatic expansion then allowed for the development of new opportunities, both forestry driven and those related to the area’s tourism sector. The agreement compensates HFN for the 2004 removal of 70,000 hectares of land from Tree Farm License 44 on Hupacasath traditional territory.
Later the establishment of a Collaborative Forest Council provided HFN with greater input toward land management issues on its traditional territory. This control also involved the expanding recreational and sustainable tourism opportunities at Great Central Lake. With access to water lots on Great Central Lake for recreational development HFN is exploring potential projects to develop the area in a manner acceptable to the community. To that end, HFN is developing lake standards on a wide variety of issues, including sewage, and the more than 40 float homes currently on the lake will be moved to one of three locations that HFN will operate.
Rock Quarry Project: Land development within the territory of the Hupacasath First Nation also includes the development of the Eagle Rock Quarry Project. Created as an aggregate extraction project, the operation is owned collectively by Polaris Materials (70 per cent), Hupacasath First Nation (10 per cent) and Ucluelet First Nation (10 per cent), with 10 percent held in trust. The project entails extracting granite at a quarry 15 kilometers south of Port Alberni and shipping it to California to produce asphalt and concrete. The project remains inactive until all environmental agency concerns are addressed and markets are viable.
In 2002, drilling tests confirmed granite resources of 757 million tons. The following year, the project received an Environmental Assessment Certificate and Mine Permit, for the production of 6.6 million tons per year, which, at the permitted production rate, suggests a potential life for the quarry in excess of 100 years. Eagle Rock Quarry has the potential to become one of the largest aggregate quarries on the west coast of North America, but due to uncertain markets (specifically in California) the project has been temporarily put on hold. To date, Polaris has paid for all costs related to the quarry project, with Hupacasath and Ucluelet First Nations not scheduled to provide any equity until construction would take place at the quarry site.
Nootka Insurance: Another recent addition to the Hupacasath First Nation economic mix was the strategic acquisition of the majority interest in its own insurance firm. Nootka Insurance Agency is a limited partnership insurance company based in Port Alberni partnered with Whitlock Insurance in Trail BC and Heritage Credit Union.
Operated identically to any other insurance brokerage, Nootka Insurance Agency offers its clients a full range of commercial and industrial insurance products and is entering the home, condo and on reserve aboriginal markets.