With both Victoria and Ottawa pondering the value of the B.C. Treaty Commission process and last year’s Tsilqot’in Supreme Court decision, one thing is certain, the issue of land claims won’t go away.
In addition, dealing with First Nations in an open, up-front way will get results.
That was the message given by a couple of First Nations leaders at the Council of Forest Industries convention in Prince George on Wednesday.
“The courts bring us victories,” said Dallas Smith, President and CEO, Nanwakolas Business Corp. and Nanwakolas Council on Vancouver Island. “But they don’t bring us justice. Justice comes from the policies (that are a result of the court cases).”
As someone who went through the ‘war in the woods,’ land-use planning processes, and the Commission on Resources and Environment discussions, Smith said there has been progress.
“You have to acknowledge that there is a discussion that has to be had and acknowledge that we have authority over our lands and resources,” he told the packed house of primarily forest industry representatives. “You have to respect the autonomy of First Nations governments.”
While there are plenty of high-level talks, he said it’s all about building relationships with First Nations and joked that the days of taking the chief out to a hockey game and getting an agreement signed, are over. It’s about creating relationships with the band and community.
“The decisions are going to be made in the communities of which the resource is going to be developed from,” he said.
He added that if forest companies want a quicker time dealing with First Nations, then share some resources to help bands deal with the requests. He said the Number 1 issue bands have when it comes to resource development is dealing with Crown land referrals and the lack of local bands’ capacity to deal with those referrals.
“We want our member nations to have the best information available to make those decisions,” he said.
McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief and president of Duz-Cho Logging said the times have certainly changed when it comes to involving First Nations in resource industries.
“We shouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming … We no longer want to be bystanders.”
The McLeod Lake Indian Band is one of the examples of how bands can get involved. About five years ago, shortly after the global economy tanked, the McLeod Lake Indian Band got involved with Paper Excellence and, with a direct award of fibre from the province, managed to get the Mackenzie Fibre pulp mill operational.
“We went from being on the edge of losing it all to a stable economy with the opportunity for growth,” he said.
The pulp mill now employs 350 people with 800 harvesting jobs. The band has also opened a cant mill, which employs another 30 people. He said the 20-year fibre award and agreements with major industry have resulted in $2.7 million going back into the community.
“Deal with the First Nations and make them a part of the planning,” he said. “It will benefit everyone … The best relationships are ones where all parties benefit.”