B.C. aboriginal progress fragile

Tom Fletcher looks at the progress and pitfalls around resource sharing agreements.

VICTORIA – The ceremonies have become common at the B.C. legislature. Government officials and aboriginal leaders gather to celebrate resource sharing agreements that allow economic development in areas that need employment but are hampered by a century of uncertainty and dispute over treaties, or lack thereof.

This approach emerged a decade ago with forest agreements. The B.C. Liberal government bought back timber cutting licences from big forest firms and made them available for community forests and aboriginal communities who claimed the areas as their traditional territories.

Recently the approach was extended to mining revenues and water licence fees paid by private power developers.

These are substantial steps forward for the only province in Canada in treaty limbo. A 2010 sharing deal worth more than $30 million in royalties for the Mount Milligan copper-gold mine north of Prince George helped the McLeod Lake Indian Band recover from the pine beetle and forestry slump that devastated its business base.

After many years of struggle, Mount Milligan expects to go into production this year. Another agreement with Kamloops-area communities shared revenues from an expanded Afton mine.

Perhaps the most ambitious agreement was concluded in March of this year when the government signed a deal with the Tahltan Nation for mining and hydroelectric development in remote northwestern B.C. The deal clears the way for a major extension of the BC Hydro grid to power the Tahltan village of Iskut and also the Red Chris metal mine, opening up the region to other mining and hydro potential as well.

To get that deal, the province put up $20 million last year to buy back Shell Canada’s coalbed gas leases in the Klappan region, headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine Rivers. Those leases had become a target of international protest.

Even after these expensive concessions, it would be an error to conclude that all is well between the Tahltan and the province. Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson questioned Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad on this point during the recent legislature session.

The Tahltan Central Council was pleased about shared decision-making on resource projects, until they found out that B.C. had handed the environmental assessment of a new open-pit coal mine over to the federal government. The proposed mine is in the Klappan, known around the world as the Sacred Headwaters.

Rustad said shared decision-making deals such as the Tahltan agreement do not cover activities of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. Whether the review of that coal mine is federal, provincial or combined, it requires extensive consultation with affected parties.

That’s great, but all that goodwill could evaporate quickly if a coal mine ends up getting a permit despite Tahltan objections.

Rustad’s Nechako Lakes constituency is also a focal point for oil and gas pipeline proposals. Donaldson highlighted another problem. Last year the government signed a reconciliation agreement with the Gitanyow First Nation near Terrace, one of many communities struggling to get through the B.C. treaty negotiation process.

That agreement included a joint land-use plan. Then the Environmental Assessment Office asked the Gitanyow for its input on proposed gas pipelines through its territory, to feed the government’s liquefied natural gas plans. Again, the joint land-use plan has no provision for pipelines.

The Gitanyow hereditary chiefs wrote to the B.C. government in July, threatening to go to court over the pipeline proposal and questioning the value of their hard-won reconciliation agreement.

Resource revenue sharing agreements and shared land-use plans are well-intentioned and represent real progress. But these situations show how fragile they are.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press.

tfletcher@blackpress.ca.

 

Just Posted

VIDEO: North Island Peewee Eagles unleash avalanche of goals against Peninsula in semi-final showdown

The two teams squared up on Sunday morning at the Chilton Regional Arena in Port McNeill.

North Island Seniors Housing Foundation takes the next step towards getting Trustee Road land

Seniors rejoice, Port Hardy council is very much in favour of helping… Continue reading

Port Hardy Volleyball club requests funding from Port Hardy council

The sport of Volleyball is alive and well in the North Island,… Continue reading

Should aquaculture programs be offered at North Island College in Port Hardy?

“I think it would be very timely to have an aquaculture program”

Island Health issues press release regarding Port Alice Health Centre service changes

Island Health will be hosting a community meeting in Port Alice Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. in the rec centre.

‘Just like Iron Man’: Calgary surgeon undergoes experimental spinal surgery

Dr. Richi Gill was in a freak accident on a boogie board during a family vacation in Hawaii

Deported B.C. man who came to Canada as a baby granted chance at return

Lee Van Heest was deported to the Netherlands in 2017

A Mother’s Wish: Ryan Shtuka’s mother wants her son to be ‘forever known’

‍‍‍‍‍“Let me tell you a story …. it all began with a boy named Ryan”

Sex abuse survivors to meet with Vatican summit organizers

Pope Francis has urged participants to meet with abuse victims before they came to Rome

Ex-FBI official: ‘Crime may have been committed’ by Trump

Andrew McCabe said FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was in league with Russia

B.C. athlete takes home gold in freestyle aerials at Canada Games

Brayden Kuroda won the event with a combined score of 121.65.

Cabinet likely to extend deadline to reconsider Trans Mountain pipeline

New round of consultations with Indigenous communities is coming

Most Read