First Nations add voice to ferry debate

First Nations chiefs from across B.C. have committed to work with coastal governments to lobby for a more affordable ferry system

First Nations chiefs from across B.C. have committed to work with coastal governments to lobby the province for a more affordable ferry system.

At the First Nations Summit in Vancouver last month, a resolution was passed that, “First Nations Summit Chiefs in Assembly support and encourage Coastal First Nations to join with the Coastal Ferry Group in seeking occasional meetings with the premier and the Minister of Transportation, other ministers and BC Ferry services Inc. to resolve ferry issues and produce a ferry system which is affordable and effective.”

Jim Abram, chair of the Strathcona Regional District board and a member of the Coastal Regional District Chairs Group which is made up of 13 regional district chairs, said having that resolution pass was a huge victory.

“Really, the most important thing is that we have managed to bring all these non-coastal people into this discussion,” Abram said. “They all understand now it’s a provincial issue. We (the coast) generate 38 per cent of the gross domestic product and that goes into programs that they benefit from.”

Abram said himself, Colin Palmer (chair of the chairs group), and Reg Moody were given the opportunity to present the resolution at the First Nations Summit which is comprised of a majority of B.C. First Nations and tribal councils and provides a forum for First Nations in B.C. to address issues related to Treaty negotiations and other areas of concern.

Abram said the original resolution drawn up by the chairs group did not fit the Summit’s format and in the final hours, a new one had to be written up. It was worth the last minute scramble, though, as on the last day of the Summit, Oct. 16, the resolution was put forward to the First Nations assembly and passed.

“Basically what it means now is we will work with the First Nations Summit to come up with a work plan, and we hope to meet with the minister and premier early in the new year,” Abram said. “That will be a good thing for the province as far as ferry service is concerned because we’re all affected by this. It’s a provincial issue.”

The Coastal Chairs Group was formed in 2011 out of a growing concern about the economic and social impacts of BC Ferries on coastal communities. The Group maintains the position that BC Ferries is a provincial highway and as such should be funded under the the province’s transportation ministry.