Strathcona Regional District looks to improve relationship with First Nations

The Strathcona Regional District regional district is considering a new relationship-building initiative with First Nations

Following tension last year between Strathcona Regional District directors and Cortes Island’s Klahoose First Nation, the regional district is considering a new relationship-building initiative.

An engagement strategy with First Nations governments and communities was identified by the board as one of its top strategic priorities during a planning session earlier this year.

This week, Russ Hotsenpiller, chief administrative officer for the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), told the board in a report that such a strategy will take work and commitment.

“A successful engagement strategy moves through a continuum from reconciliation of past differences, to the development of internal and external policies, and finally to joint agreements and collaboration,” Hotsenpiller said. “Implementation of a relationship-building strategy will take commitment of resources and time by both the SRD and First Nations.”

The board’s desire to better its relationships with First Nations comes on the heels of a heated re-zoning application process with the Klahoose First Nation in 2013.

A majority of the four electoral area directors chose to decline the Klahoose’s invitation to hold a public hearing into a re-zoning for a new marina in Squirrel Cove at the Klahoose multi-purpose centre.

The board instead elected to host the meeting at the Gorge Hall, a site the board deemed neutral, citing concerns that those who wanted to speak against the application would be uncomfortable voicing their opposition in the applicant’s territory.

That decision set off a firestorm of criticism from Cortes residents.

The Klahoose were then further angered when the regional district board decided, on account of a perceived bias, to remove Cortes Director Noba Anderson as chair of the public hearing.

The board eventually also denied the Klahoose’s application for the re-zoning after hearing that a majority of boaters, and the BC Yacht Clubs, were against the proposal out of concern for the loss of good anchorage sites to commercial entities.

Since then, the board has made it a priority to improve relations with First Nations in the region.

For instance, a representative from the Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nation now sits on the board as a non-voting member and the board anticipates other First Nation governments concluding treaties and participating in regional governance.

The board is also planning to move forward with its strategic priority of developing an engagement strategy with First Nations.

A regional district staff report, which was before the board of directors at its Thursday meeting after the Mirror went to press, suggests several options.

Those include:

  • Engaging a First Nations relations specialist.
  • Undertaking a First Nations cultural workshop with the board.
  • Referring land use and Official Community Plan amendment referrals to First Nations;.
  • Considering engaging a First Nations liaison officer.
  • Partnering with School District 72 to develop a job shadowing or co-op program that targets First Nations Grade 11 and 12 students.
  • Partnering with First Nation communities on appropriate projects.
  • Supporting First Nations community development proposals through greater understanding of their interests, aspirations and challenges.

The board has allocated $25,000 to facilitate First Nations educational workshops, which regional district staff is recommending be carried over to 2015 to initiate the engagement strategy.