An information package will soon be given out to residents south of the city who say they have been left in the dark over a controversial First Nations reserve proposed for the York Road area.
The information will be disseminated by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) – the federal government body tasked with assessing and approving the reserve proposal by the Tlowitsis First Nation.
“This package would be distributed to all Electoral Area D residents in late August,” wrote Victoria Smith, special projects and sustainability manager, in a report prepared for a July 6 regional district in-camera meeting which is closed to the public and the media. “Residents would be invited to comment and ask further questions over an approximate five-week period.”
The report, which regional district directors recently voted to release for public consumption, goes on to say that all questions and comments “will be collated and distributed back to the working group for response, as required, at the group’s next meeting scheduled for October, 2017.”
The working group is made up of representatives from the Tlowitsis Nation, the City of Campbell River, and INAC as well as John MacDonald, the regional district’s board chair, and Area D Director Brenda Leigh.
According to the in-camera report, the group has met twice. The first time was in April to discuss the Additions to Reserve (ATR) process that the Tlowitsis is going through with INAC, as well as water servicing.
“The parties agree that water servicing issues will continue to be discussed,” Smith wrote in the report.
It’s just one of the many services the Tlowitsis are seeking assistance with. The Nation last October met with regional district staff to request a letter that addresses the issue of providing services such as water, sewer, garbage collection and fire protection. Many of the services requested, however, the regional district is unable to provide, such as water and sewer. Area D gets its water from the City of Campbell River and it does not have sewer service.
Services are among the many questions that Leigh, on behalf of her Area D constituents, has been seeking answers to since at least March of 2016 when the Tlowitsis’ reserve proposal first came to light publicly.
Leigh even went so far as to draft a letter with 30 questions which she asked regional district staff to seek answers to and report back on. The information package coming to Area D residents is expected to address those questions which surround the provision of services, how governance would work on the reserve (i.e. bylaw harmonization), access to recreational roads historically used in the area via private land, hunting provisions, etc.
The proposal elicited racist graffiti in the area shortly after it first came to light last year but the majority of residents were quick to condemn the actions of the few.
“The applicants are people too and deserve respect no matter the outcome of this,” said Area D resident Marion Burkell at a public meeting last spring. “What is not welcome here are those responsible for the spray paint and graffiti to the signs and roadway on York Road. It’s a beautiful area to live and hopefully rural life will calm again once questions are answered, plans are made and new neighbours are settled.”
The Tlowitsis is proposing to establish a home community for between 100 and 150 of its members over the next 10 to 30 years on a 630-acre site off York Road, roughly the total area of downtown Campbell River.
When and if the proposal is approved by INAC, the Tlowitsis says it will begin a formal planning process and finalize specific infrastructure plans developed in collaboration with INAC. The Nation’s vision is to build a community with 75 to 100 homes, an administrative office, a day school, a council hall and a recreational and sports area.
The Tlowitsis have 11 reserves scattered throughout the region but Tlowitsis Coun. Thomas Smith said previously that none are large enough to support a new community and they are somewhat isolated, accessible only by water or air. There are also no amenities, schools, doctors or medical services or employment opportunities on or near these reserves. In addition, there is no electricity or potable water available on a majority of the reserves.