FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The Peace River Regional District has issued an apology to attendees of a June 8th committee of the whole meeting addressing Treaty Land Sharing Networks.
The apology comes after the regional board received a letter from four Treaty 8 First Nations expressing their concerns and “seeking accountability for the PRRD’s failure to address the highly inappropriate and anti-Indigenous remarks made during the meeting.”
The letter was discussed at a regional board meeting on June 29th, where the directors decided an apology was necessary not only for the affected First Nations but for everyone in attendance as well.
The June 8th meeting, held at the Pomeroy Hotel and Conference Centre in Fort St. John, was ended abruptly due to overcapacity.
Over 1,000 Peace region residents and landowners attended the meeting to express their concerns about Treaty Land Sharing Networks, a voluntary concept with the purpose of connecting farmers and ranchers to local First Nations by allowing access to their land for cultural practices.
A letter written by Chair Leonard Hiebert on behalf of the PRRD and its board of directors states the board extends their “sincere apology to those who attended for the way the meeting unfolded.”
“We believe that the level of frustration expressed at the meeting was due in large part to misinformation about the proposed Land Sharing Network, and we recognize that many of the residents attending the meeting, either in person and or online, had genuine concerns about their land ownership rights,” Hiebert wrote.
“We wanted to give them a chance to share input and apologize for not being prepared to facilitate sharing of those concerns in an environment that was a safe place for all to be able to hear and participate, given the unexpected number of people who took the time to attend.”
According to Hiebert, the PRRD has separately provided direct apologies to the Prophet River, Halfway River, Doig River, and West Moberly First Nations.
As a result of the June 8th meeting, the PRRD withdrew their support for Treaty Land Sharing Networks, while the First Nations involved later pulled their request for support.
“We are disappointed that an initiative intended to bring out communities closer together by building trust and working relationships has resulted in a greater division instead,” Hiebert wrote.
Hiebert concluded the letter of apology by acknowledging the importance of open and proactive communication and stating the PRRD’s commitment to working with residents to “pursue opportunities to build relationships and address concerns as they arise.”