‘New reality’ with First Nations means prolonged talks on forest reserve: North Cowichan CAO
Consultations with First Nations on the Municipal Forest Reserve will be a “long-term project” based on a “new reality,” Chief Administrative Officer Ted Swabey has told North Cowichan council.
Swabey noted that the public consultation on the forestry review is now completed, and the municipality is awaiting a technical review of management scenarios by the UBC Partnership Group.
(The public spoke overwhelmingly in favour of conservation values rather than continued status-quo logging in the forest reserve, also known as the Six Mountains.)
The management plan that follows is “where the rubber meets the road and we talk about how we actually manage the forest reserve,” Swabey said at the May 17 meeting. That process will “take into account the needs and rights and historical values that First Nations bring to the table. They absolutely all are intertwined.”
Swabey said “there is a new reality now with these types of lands in terms of how we look at them and make decisions about how we use them. That new reality is the First Nations are a partner and a very important partner in how we manage these lands.
“Their values in terms of biodiversity and tree protection go far beyond what we think of, and rightfully so.
“So, we have a lot of work to do to actually get to a point where we can say we’re going to be harvesting or we’re going to be doing carbon credits or we’re going to be doing trail development or any other use of the forest reserve.
“This is a long-term project, now that we acknowledge that the First Nations are really important in this process.”
The courts have ruled that the senior governments have a duty to consult and where appropriate accommodate First Nations on projects. That legal duty does not extend to municipalities.
Asked to clarify, Swabey told sixmountains.ca that the spirit of reconciliation extends beyond legal requirements.
He said local governments exist in the unceded territory of First Nations, making the importance of reconciliation “critical to establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”
Swabey said the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015, have relevance to local governments, while the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) “provides guidance to all levels of government related to moving reconciliation forward.”
He said: “Reconciliation is not about who is responsible for the consultation/engagement and/or any accommodation. True reconciliation by local governments must be in the spirit” of the Calls to Action and UNDRIP.
The BC legislature unanimously voted to adopt UNDRIP in 2019.
Swabey added: “A number of our licenses and project work, where we receive grant funding, comes with the expectation that local governments meaningfully engage directly with First Nations.”
Asked to weigh in on the issue, the provincial Municipal Affairs Ministry said it “encourages all local governments to collaborate with their neighbours, especially around decisions that affect quality of life for people and communities.
“Local elected officials have a responsibility to consider the best interests of their communities and are accountable to explain their choices to their residents.
“Accordingly, local governments are autonomous, responsible and accountable for being transparent and inclusive of public input. Some situations can be challenging, and if needed, the ministry is available to hear concerns both from local governments and First Nations.”
sixmountains.ca has reported that terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by North Cowichan and First Nations on the forest reserve have not been met.
Swabey said there may be amendments to the MOU. https://bit.ly/3pB2d8w .
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(Photo of Ted Swabey courtesy of The Citizen)
— Larry Pynn, May 24, 2023