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 Bantam Eagles still undefeated, dominate Oceanside Generals in Port Hardy

Who can stop the North Island Bantam Eagles? The answer so far this season is, well, no one.

VIDEO: North Island Atom Eagles tie Victoria Ice Hawks, fall in rematch

The North Island Atom Eagles will be back in league play action at home in January.

Strong winds expected to hit north, west Vancouver Island: Environment Canada

Environment Canada said southeast winds will reach speeds of 70 to 90 kilometres per hour

Town of Port McNeill hesitates on replacing harbour’s dock and ramp

“The danger is the longer we hold on to awarding the bid, the closer we get to the tourist season”

It’s the last day to vote in B.C.’s referendum on electoral reform

Ballots must now be dropped off in person to meet the deadline of 4:30 p.m.

Lawyer for Chinese exec detained by Canada says it’s ‘inconceivable’ she would flee

Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Pipeline protesters arrested at B.C. university

Three protesters were arrested after TRU property allegedly vandalized with red paint

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Minister appoints former CIRB chair to resolve Canada Post labour dispute

Postal workers engaged in weeks of rotating walkouts

Most Read