Local MP Rachel Blaney says she supports the Tlowitsis in its pursuit of a new reserve for its members and is urging affected parties to come together in consultation.
The Area D community has been asking for more information since the Tlowitsis’ proposal to convert private land off of York Road first came to light in March.
Blaney, however, said the Nation is not legally required to consult with the public, but under the federal Additions to Reserve process, a ‘good neighbour’ approach is recommended.
Blaney said she would like to see the affected local government, in this case the Strathcona Regional District, the Tlowitsis and the Area D community come together to resolve its concerns.
“I’m inclined to support the Tlowitsis having a land base,” Blaney said. “They’re a fragmented people looking for somewhere to build their community.
“But, there’s also a process and the impact on communities must be meaningfully addressed.”
Blaney said she’s hearing from the Area D community and she understands their concerns.
“A lot of residents have sent me lots of emails, and I’ve had lots of phone calls,” Blaney said. “Change is hard and people want to be heard.”
Blaney said all affected parties should review a toolkit created by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, in partnership with the federal government and several First Nations boards and associations, that aims to enhance communication between First Nations and municipal governments.
The toolkit, Building Capacity Through Communication: Municipal-Aboriginal Partnerships in Land Management, identifies best practices and recommendations for successful municipal-Aboriginal partnerships.
The toolkit also explains the Additions to Reserve process which the Tlowitsis have already begun. The Nation is expecting to submit its application to convert the York Road lots into reserve land in mid-June.
Its application to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada must include, among other things, any third party interests such as leases, permits or rights of way affecting the land; any available environmental information; any expected contentious issues; initial communication plan to inform the First Nation community of the proposal; and results of any communications and negotiations with the local community, municipal and provincial governments.
Once the federal government receives the reserve proposal, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada will consult with the Tlowitsis and ensure a number of steps are completed, including: development of a communications strategy to inform the community at large of the proposal; environmental assessment to identify any concerns or remediation required; and a land appraisal.
In the Tlowitsis’ case, the First Nation has met with the Strathcona Regional District’s Chief Administrative Officer, Dave Leitch, and shared its preliminary plans which include 75 housing units for between 100 and 200 of its members who are spread out among the remote coastal areas of northeastern Vancouver Island and adjacent mainland inlets.
Tlowitis Coun. Thomas Smith said the purpose of establishing a new reserve is to build a home community that is easily accessible. He said it’s “not practical” to build on the Tlowitsis’ traditional territory which encompasses an area north of Kelsey Bay toward Beaver Cove (including Turnour Island), and has no schools or health services and can only be accessed by water or air.
Leitch said the purpose behind meetings with the Tlowitsis has, at this point, been relationship building.
“They’ve been receptive, meetings have gone well. They’re fantastic people,” Leitch said. “They’re not resisting (public consultation), they have a process that maybe we’re not fully aware of.”
Leitch said that some studies have been completed but at this point there is not enough relevant information available for community consultation.
“The reality is, there isn’t a lot of work that’s been done at this point.” Leitch said. “At this point, we’re really just trying to relationship build with them, see where they’re at.”
The Area D community has questioned plans for transportation, site access, sewer and water services, tax harmonization, schooling, policing and fire protection, as well as commercial plans for the property.
To view the municipal-Aboriginal partnership toolkit, visit: www.fcm.ca/Documents/reports/Building_Capacity_Through_Communication_EN.pdf