Cowichan Tribes has ‘no objection’ to keeping public informed on Municipal Forest Reserve consultations

Chief William Seymour: “Our first thought is, well, give it back to us….”

Cowichan Tribes Chief William Seymour says he supports The Municipality of North Cowichan keeping its citizens generally informed on government-to-government consultations on future management of the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

“I don’t have any objections to that,” Seymour said in an interview with sixmountains.ca

Until just over year ago, the municipality logged the forest reserve without input from the general public. Grassroots protests led to a moratorium on new logging pending a consultation process. “I think it’s important that North Cowichan is going in that direction,” Seymour said. “They’re starting to listen now. I like that idea.

“We’re the same way. We’re community driven. We need their approval to move in a new direction, so I have no issue with that.”

Seymour appreciates that North Cowichan citizens are concerned about clearcutting in the Municipal Forest Reserve — also known as the Six Mountains.

“I think we have the same concerns,” he said, adding he’d be more inclined to support sustainable harvesting that is friendlier to the environment.

Cowichan Tribes also wants to ensure protection of middens and other Indigenous sites in the forest reserve, he said.

“Our first thought is, well, give it back to us and we’ll take care of it,” Seymour said. “But that’s a pipe dream.”

Despite Seymour’s support for North Cowichan keeping its electorate generally informed on consultations, that doesn’t mean it will happen.

“We’re potentially dealing with a much broader swath of FN interests than just Cowichan Tribes,” North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring responded.

“We’d want some formal dialogue with him (Seymour and his council) before going to any kind of public disclosure on these issues. There are protocols and processes that need to be followed….”
Municipalities have no legal obligation to consult with First Nations on projects; the courts have ruled that onus falls on the senior governments.

“Municipalities, unless it is specifically delegated to them, they are not considered the Crown,” says Deborah Curran, associate law professor at the University of Victoria.

An exception, she noted, is the Local Government Act, which requires municipalities to consult with First Nations when developing official Official Community Plans, but these are considered policy documents with no specific requirements.

That doesn’t mean consultations should not take place.

“While there is not a legal requirement for municipalities to consult with First Nations, engaging together on matters of mutual importance is key to reconciliation,” says Stephen Binder, spokesman for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation. “Legal requirements for consultation are always considered the minimum standard of what is necessary and advisable.”

Last month Metro Vancouver announced a “milestone” cooperation agreement for Belcarra Regional Park, “recognizing both Tsleil-Waututh’s ancestral ties to the land and the present use by its members as well as a Metro Vancouver regional park.” The First Nation has no veto, but disputes can go to mediation.

Said Siebring: “We will be working with a consultant to help guide us as we engage on a government-to-government level and set out to build a strong relationship with our Indigenous partners in essence because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”

He further notes that the B.C. government recently adopted Bill 41, (https://bit.ly/2v4udrh) enabling legislation that aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As such, North Cowichan’s actions are consistent.

The municipality announced March 18 that consultations on the forest reserve have been postponed for 90 days due to spread of the coronavirus.

There are two separate consultations — one with the public, the other with First Nations.

The following First Nations have been invited to participate: Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Tribes, Halalt, Penelakut, Stz’uminus, Lyackson and Snuneymuxw. Of these, only Lake Cowichan has so far declined to engage.

The Six Mountains are Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Tzouhalem, and Stoney Hil.

 

— Larry Pynn March 25, 2020

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