Directors concerned about poking around in First Nations’ business

Regional board debates First Nations relations

Strathcona Regional District directors would not commit last week to establishing a committee to improve relations with First Nations.

Some directors were concerned about the implications of such a group and didn’t want to seem like they were poking around where they’re not welcome.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh said some First Nations are in the middle of treaty negotiations and that’s not the regional district’s place to get involved.

“I have some misgivings about setting up this committee and the reason is that quite a few of the First Nations are entering treaty negotiations and quite a few of them don’t want other local government dealing with their business,” Leigh said.

She recounted the time the regional district board travelled to Cortes Island to meet members of the Klahoose First Nation and visit their new hall.

“They were not happy that our CAO had attached a draft copy of their treaty to the agenda for the meeting and they were very offended. I thought we were going to have to swim back from Cortes because they were very, very offended,” Leigh said. “They didn’t want us meddling in their treaties and so I think we’re making an assumption that we have the right to insert ourselves in their process.”

But Tahsis Director Jude Schooner said that’s not the purpose of the committee.

“This is about strengthening relationships and making sure we don’t make the faux pas like we did with the Klahoose,” Schooner said.

Tom Yates, acting CAO of the regional district, wrote in a report to the board that the committee would exist to “provide advice and recommendations to the board on strengthening the regional district’s relations with First Nations governments within the region, this objective having been identified as a strategic priority for the regional district.”

Draft terms of reference for the committee state that its mandate would be to research how the regional district and other governments are trying to improve their relationships with First Nations; to prepare an inventory of all First Nations located within the regional district; and to investigate the status of each First Nation with respect to treaty negotiations.

Quadra Island Director Jim Abram said he thought the committee was “completely unnecessary” and that all three of those items can easily be done without having to form a committee.

“Number one…that is chronicling of information that can easily be done by staff,” Abram said in reading the mandate. “Secondly, that is absolutely a GIS mapping planning exercise that can be done by staff and number three…that is a phone call from staff. You don’t need a committee to do these three things.

“I’m wondering why we need to duplicate what already exists,” Abram added. “If this is just a matter of making it look like we’re working on one of our strategic priorities to the public eye, it’s a waste of time. It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Campbell River Director Charlie Cornfield reminded the board that it was the directors who had recommended staff draft terms of reference to establish such a committee.

Cornfield also disagreed with Abram’s assessment that those items the committee is proposed to undertake are already happening. He also said the regional district needs to ensure it has all the correct information on where each First Nation is at with respect to treaty negotiations.

In the end, the matter was deferred to the board’s strategic planning session, expected to take place within the next few months.

Directors Cornfield and Schooner were both opposed to the deferral.