FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — After Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting was deferred due to overcapacity, the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) voted in favour of withdrawing their letter of support for the concept of Treaty Land Sharing Networks.
The PRRD voted to withdraw their support “until Scion Strategies Ltd is able to describe the concept in detail, has provided answers to landowners about the concept, and has held meetings with landowners regarding the idea and demonstrates support from the landowners and interested parties.”
The decision was made before the public and Scion Strategies Ltd had a chance to reconvene in the rescheduled meeting and address the concept further.
The purpose of Treaty Land Sharing is to honour the intent of the original Treaties by sharing the land for mutual benefit while connecting farmers and ranchers with Indigenous people by providing safe and respectful access to their land. Treaty Land Sharing is a voluntary process with the sole intention of building relationships between local First Nations and landholders who choose to participate.
Thursday morning’s committee of the whole meeting, hosted at the Pomeroy Hotel and Conference Centre, was packed to the brim with Peace region residents sharing concerns over the concept and looking for answers.
The atmosphere was thick with tension during the meeting, with continuous uproar from the crowd of residents. The amount of attendees broke capacity, causing the meeting’s shutdown due to fire safety regulations.
Generally, a committee of the whole meeting is held for less formal discussion about a concept or idea, with the purpose of providing information to local government and the public. Final decisions are not made at these meetings.
Scion Strategies Ltd’s Dale Bumstead and Urban Systems’ Edward Stanford, who originally presented the idea to the board earlier this year, were both present at the meeting, hoping for the opportunity to provide clarity to the public about Treaty Land Sharing.
Due to the spread of misinformation across social media over the past few weeks, a large number of the meeting’s attendees were frustrated and verbally voiced their concerns throughout the meeting. The general concern surrounded the idea of granting First Nations people access to private land without permission and the regional board making private decisions about Treaty Land Sharing with no public input.
Bumstead attempted to address concerns during the meeting, saying he “feels horrible about the information that’s been shared.”
“The insinuations that we’ve developed a model that’s in some way moving towards allowing unauthorized, unapproved access to private land,” said Bumstead.
“I have never ever suggested that. I have never said that, I never insinuated that.”
Other concerns about the Treaty Land Sharing concept are the legality and liability involved in a land-sharing program, the impact on local food producers, fee simple property definitions, and future subdivision approvals. Concern was also voiced about the PRRD’s decision to write a letter of support without first consulting the public.
Brad Sperling, director for Electoral Area C, emphasized the importance of having public consultation regarding the concept.
“That’s the main concern, putting this out to the public so that they can respond and have the information that they need – whether they wish to or not, it’s the private land owner’s decision,” said Sperling.
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen questioned the potential liability to landowners and those invited on their land. Bumstead responded by saying he is unable to speak to liability or structure and explained again the program is a voluntary process, which exists only in concept at this time, with no model for Northeast B.C.
The majority of the public in attendance did not seem interested in hearing what Bumstead had to say.
One man commandeered a board member’s microphone to express his opposition, accusing Bumstead of neglecting to inform the public of his idea.
“He seems to have conversations with a lot of these different groups, but did you ever have a conversation with the taxpayers and the farmers from Fort St. John? Where was that conversation?”
After being booed and jeered out of the meeting by angry attendees, neither Bumstead nor Stanford had the opportunity to provide further clarification or answer questions from the board. A round of applause echoed through the room as they left the meeting, along with chants of “We say no!”
Area B director Jordan Kealy, who is also the owner of Kealy Farms, attempted to put forward a motion to put a “cease and desist” on the board’s letter of support “until the concept can actually be properly consulted with the public.” The director was quickly reminded by Board Chair Leonard Heibert and PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen motions cannot be put forward during a committee of the whole meeting.
Bumstead and Stanford weren’t the only ones who were robbed of the opportunity to speak; both the Landy and Nor’Pioneer Women’s Institutes had representatives whose appearances were cut short due to the deferral.
Many in attendance were disappointed by the deferral, and some felt misrepresented by the uproar. One woman approached Energeticcity.ca as the meeting dissipated, saying, “We’re not all like this.”
After the crowd cleared and the board resumed their meeting, the directors discussed their stance on Treaty Land Sharing for over an hour. Although they voted to withdraw their letter of support for the concept, the board came to the decision that a committee of the whole meeting would still be rescheduled as promised.
A date for the deferred meeting has yet to be released at this time.