Strathcona Regional District directors say negative messages directed at the Tlowitsis Nation are “totally unacceptable” and “inexcusable.”
Dave Leitch, chief administrative officer of the regional district, said he has reached out to the Nation to apologize.
“I personally spoke to Mr. (Thomas) Smith and expressed regret about how this rolled out,” Leitch said.
He added that himself and board chair John MacDonald are planning to meet with Smith, a Tlowitsis councillor, next week to further discuss the Tlowitsis’ proposal to establish a reserve on property on the north side of York Road, west of Henry Road.
It’s a proposal that has been met with concern and in some cases, resistance, by York Road residents who only became aware of the plan three weeks ago.
At Wednesday’s regional district board meeting, directors said they were upset by ‘No Rez’ messages spray painted on signs marking the proposed development site as well as on the road nearby.
Director Charlie Cornfield said it makes the entire regional district look bad.
“I was very, very disappointed with the reaction,” Cornfield said. “That type of behaviour is unacceptable. I was embarrassed by it. It does terrible things for us and we’re all tarred with that brush.”
Area D Director Brenda Leigh told the board she also was “dismayed” by the actions of a few.
Director Andy Adams took it a step further and directed regional district staff to send a letter to the Tlowitsis on behalf of the board expressing its “sincere regret about the negative comments received.”
Adams said it was an “inexcusable response” and that he had already reached out to the Tlowitsis as mayor of Campbell River.
Tahsis Director Jude Schooner agreed the response was unacceptable.
“I think everyone at this table has been disturbed,” she said.
The push back was in response to the Tlowitsis’ proposal to establish a home community for 100 of its roughly 425 members on TimberWest property it has agreed to purchase.
Area D residents who packed a meeting between the electoral area directors last week voiced concerns that they had not been consulted on the proposal which only came to light because the Tlowitsis asked the regional district for a letter of support to go with its application to the federal government for an Additions to Reserves.
In a letter written by Smith to the regional district last week, he explained that the regional district, and Leigh, who had met with the Tlowitsis in December to receive preliminary plans, were not legally able to say anything.
“It was not our intention to put Director Leigh in a difficult spot,” Smith wrote.
“The Tlowitsis were under a legal obligation to the vendor not to disclose information regarding this transaction until we met certain milestones within the sale agreement.”
Thomas, in his letter, also tried to put residents’ minds at ease with regards to the schematic land use plan.
“The Nation has not completed a formal plan for commercial development at this time,” he wrote. “There is no planned industrial park for the property in the foreseeable future. The schematic only illustrates what may be possible in any future economic developments. Any land development once these lands become reserve will require pre-approval by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada as these lands will be under the jurisdiction of the federal crown.”
Smith said the Nation is nearing completion of its application to the federal government for Additions to Reserves which he said is not a simple process and requires many studies and assessments to meet the Additions to Reserves requirements.
Leigh told the board on Wednesday that the process also requires consultation with the community and local government. Leigh has given regional district staff a list of nearly 30 items of concern that staff are expected to report back on and bring back to the earliest possible electoral area directors’ meeting.
Smith, meanwhile, said he hopes that the regional district, residents and the Tlowitsis can all move forward amicably.
“We are truly hopeful that we can live together in a civil and respectful manner,” Smith said. “We want to be as open and clear as we can within the limits of the law and our responsibilities to our Tlowitsis members.”