I read the October 31st edition of Kevin’s Corner in the NI Gazette regarding First Nation contribution to local government capital projects with interest. As the current chair of the RDMW and the incoming director for the revised Area B I certainly am aware of the many difficulties in facilitating communications and cooperation between local government and First Nations.
There is no standard model when it comes to that cooperation. As Thomas mentioned there are sometimes service agreements, but the creation of those agreements and their revision as circumstances change, is difficult to say the least. In some circumstances there is simply no contact at all, with one side or the other simply being unavailable. Correcting that takes all parties being willing to meet in the middle, which takes some concept of what the benefit of that effort would be.
On top of that conversations and negotiations between Provincial and Federal government and First Nations do not include local government at either the municipal or regional level. This can often mean local government is behind in responding to developments in those discussions and negotiations, and as local government has by far the most direct impact when it comes to local services like water this is unfortunate and inefficient. If local government was at those tables many capital infrastructure initiatives would be realized earlier with less waste of time and money because local government already knows the parameters of its own systems and where they will be effected– so for example how use and volume of water in an existing service agreement will be increased from development of a school on reserve lands can be factored in at the beginning of a project rather than in mid-stream.
There are some examples of great success, for example in the Alberni-Clayquot Regional District on the south end of the island the Huu-ay-aht First Nation resolved its treaty with the federal government and choose to sit at the RD table, in fact the RD Director from that Nation is the current chair of the ACRD and while as a regional government the various areas will not always agree on everything, as a whole they work very well together. Some other First Nations in similar circumstances have chosen not to participate with their respective regional district, preferring to keep their activities and focus internal. Local government cannot demand participation.
Even with the success elsewhere there is the matter of scope, there is no model set by senior government about how to do it, I look forward to sitting at the RDMW table with fellow directors from local First Nations, but what is the parameter governing such participation and who sets it? For example right now there is a weighted financial vote when necessary that gives more votes to North Island communities and areas that contribute more money to a service – what financial contribution will a First Nation bring to the table for that service so that it can participate in governing that service in cooperation with other contributors? Right now the model is a service agreement without participation in management – if we are lucky enough to have one of those – it is all very well to say we should change that – but how exactly? And more importantly is there an appetite to work towards such a change in good faith by all sides?
At the end of the day I believe that in spite of such complexity and competing loyalties and interests, and in spite of it being a cliché, we should all recognize we are stronger working together. We should come together to say that all the ways we are different and unique, are just slightly less important than the ways that we are the same. We should say that with contributions to mutual infrastructure as well – in direct proportion to our proximity and utilization – we are all here using the same resources, we breath the same air and have the same hopes for our children, so the things we build for us all to use, should belong to all of us, and if you don’t pay for something, it is very hard to feel ownership for it.
One final note, Thomas mentioned that I was “then” the chair of the RDMW, I am still in that position and while I am certainly willing to continue, the new board will choose a chair for 2019 at the beginning of its inaugural meeting on November 20th.