Regional directors withhold support of reserve citing lack of information

The Strathcona Regional District’s electoral directors have decided not to support the Tlowitsis First Nation’s proposal to set up a reserve on York Road.

The Electoral Area Services Committee voted Wednesday to withhold support, claiming that information requested by the regional district has not been made available and consultation with the Area D community has not occurred. That motion will now go to the whole regional district board for approval.

Area D Director Brenda Leigh made the motion and it was supported by Area A Director Gerald Whalley. Area B Director Noba Anderson was opposed.

Leigh said her decision came down to the fact that the Tlowitsis have yet to show the regional district all of the environmental studies the Nation said it has completed and that the Tlowitsis have not engaged in any public consultation to ease the fears of her constituents.

“I think with the scant information we’ve been given, I feel we’ve not been given meaningful information,” Leigh said. “We do have grave concerns.”

On March 8, the regional district received a letter from the Tlowitsis Nation requesting a formal letter from the district stating that it has “no grave concerns with regard to this land development.”

Tlowitsis Coun. Thomas Smith said the Nation has “completed all the environmental assessments, property appraisals, land encumbrances and a community infrastructure feasibility study and cost assessments” and has letters of support from all the surrounding First Nations.

Leigh, though, said she couldn’t support the proposal in the absence of more concrete plans for the proposed development despite a presentation Wednesday from Aniko Nelson, the regional district’s parks and planning manager.

She told the board that water to the site is expected to be provided by two wells already on site and there is the potential for additional wells if necessary. Nelson said the Tlowitsis advised that they have approached the City of Campbell River in regards to water service and have expressed an interest in discussing the provision of services with the regional district.

The Tlowitsis are planning to build 75 residential units to accommodate 100 to 200 of its members on lots 3-8 on the north side of York Road. The purchase agreement with TimberWest hinges on the Tlowitsis getting approval from the federal government, through the Addition to Reserves process, to convert the property to a reserve.

Nelson said, however, that the Tlowitsis have indicated the land use plan is just a schematic and not a formal plan. She said “a tourist commercial campground and RV park are under consideration by the Tlowitsis” but that a formal plan for commercial development has not been completed. Smith said that’s because any land development would have to get pre-approval by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Smith, in a letter to the board, said there “will be a high level of land use planning upon completion of the sale of the (York Road site) and the granting of the land to reserve status.”

Nelson also outlined for the electoral area directors how governance may work on the reserve lands.

“The ATR (Additions to Reserve) policy indicates that local and First Nation governments must come to an understanding on how bylaws can be harmonized,” Nelson said. “This does not require that land use bylaws within the reserve must be compatible with those on adjacent lands. The First Nation has the authority to determine independent land use on reserve lands.”

There is also no guarantee that the public will continue to have access to the privately owned lands that have historically been accessed by recreational users.

“Typically reserve roads are public; however, this would not ensure historic recreational roads would be accessible to the public,” Nelson said.

Leigh also wanted to know if the Nation would be permitted to hunt on the lands, which are located in a residential, albeit rural, neighbourhood.

“I’m concerned about the protection of human beings,” Leigh said. “This is a residential area, there’s houses all around.”

Nelson said while the Tlowitsis have not provided information regarding wildlife protection, most courts have held that the provincial Wildlife Act does not apply to reserve lands and that Aboriginal Title is a right to the land, as well as the right to hunt, fish and gather.

Nelson said her understanding is that hunting by bow may be permitted.

Leigh thanked Nelson for the presentation but said she needs more.

“A lot of the issues I raised have not been answered,” Leigh said, referring to a list of nearly 30 questions she presented to regional district staff last month. “It’s not the fault of our staff. They’ve been trying very hard. We as a community are still in the dark about what is actually proposed to be there and it’s no fault of our staff or directors, we’ve tried.”

Leigh said she’s spoken to a manager at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and voiced her community’s concerns.

Smith said the First Nation is nearing the end of the information gathering process and is preparing to submit its Additions to Reserve application  to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, the regional district is hoping for public engagement.

Nelson said the regional district would be willing to host the meeting.

“As outlined in the ATR policy, First Nations are encouraged to involve and engage the public as early as possible in the planning and development phase of an ATR proposal,” Nelson said. “The Strathcona Regional District has asked the Tlowitsis to participate in a public process and they have indicated that they are amenable to participating in a public consultation with the community; however, the (regional district) has yet to receive a commitment from the Tlowitsis for public engagement.”

Smith said “the Tlowitsis chief and council would like to be as transparent in regard to our development as is practical. We want to be as open and clear as we can within the limits of the law and our responsibilities to our Tlowitsis members.”