DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation met with the Peace River Regional District at their July 20 board meeting, reiterating the province’s intentions regarding land transfers in Northeast BC.
Effectively communicating the process of Treaty Land Entitlement under Treaty 8 and Site C tripartite land agreements were the two key topics discussed at the presentation by ministry representatives Dale Morgan, Regional Executive Director, and Tara Forest, Senior Resource Coordination Officer.
Forest said while some of the information presented isn’t new, TLE and Site C land agreements are a multi-year process, and the ministry wants to build understanding and is willing to engage with members of the public, local government, and other interest groups.
“We want to make sure there is a really good understanding – what they are, why we are doing them,” Forest said.
Land is owed to local First Nations due to historic shortfalls under Treaty 8 due to an incomplete census 100 years ago and from adverse impacts with the construction and completion of Site C.
“This is going to settle the specific claim. It’s providing a tangible demonstration of the reconciliation work that the province is doing,” said Forest. “And it’s also providing some substantive land, and that land is being provided not only for cultural reasons but for a number of reasons.”
First Nations also have the opportunity to select for economic and spiritual reasons in addition to culture, she added.
The provincial mandate remains to only transfer crown lands for TLE and Site C agreements, private lands have never been considered, said Forest.
Parcels will be identified by Treaty 8 First Nations, who then share their selections to the province, with the province obligated to conduct internal research to see if any infrastructure or community areas of interest overlap, such as hydro lines and railways.
One specific example is the Halfway River Trail, located in a selection of land by Pink Mountain – Forest said the ministry wants to ensure future access.
“We have more engagement that we’re going to be doing to relocate that trail and to make sure that access is provided for,” she said. “We also have parcels that have not been identified.”
Letters and emails are still being taken by the ministry for anyone with questions or concerns about the TLE process, in addition to a website with maps available for selected parcels, says Forest, noting the site will be updated as new parcel selections are made.
Area C Director Brad Sperling asked if open houses will continue on further land selections, noting the PRRD are not experts in the matter, nor is it their responsible to present the process to the public.
“I just want insurance that you guys will continue these open houses for the general public as you move forward, even if it’s individual claims,” said Sperling.
Morgan said open houses will continue – despite many of the TLE lands moving past the public engagement stage, with land yet to be discussed around the impacts of Site C.
“That’s our plan. As we move along because we do have a lot of the TLE lands kind of moved past that stage, but there’s the Site C lens – we still have a lot of those to come forward,” he said. “And so, that’s where I think our next sort of trunch of engagement will be, as we get the parcels from the First Nations.”
A large number of selections are still outstanding with several communities, he added, essentially leaving the ministry in a ‘holding pattern’ until those decisions are made. Morgan added that engagement will happen as soon as they can.
“They have a lot of thoughts about what they want, and they’re not quite there yet,” he said.
A newcomer to the PRRD board, Area B director Jordan Kealy said he appreciated the ministry’s presentation and asked if they’ll be able to view individual TLE agreements, noting the regional district needs to be able to inform constituents on what’s happening, expressing concern over access to community pastures.
“The reason I ask is just when it comes to the education of the public, it’s best to have it from the experts, and I don’t want people making assumptions on stuff that they don’t know about,” said Kealy. “It’s better just to give them exact facts.”
Morgan said the agreements will be made available but come in two components – a settlement agreement between Canada, BC, and the First Nations, and a land agreement between the province and the First Nations.
“There’s some sensitivity from a variety of the communities around posting them. The quanta of how much land and where has been well-publicized, so it’s not like a surprise,” said Morgan. “We are working to get to a space where we can post them.”
Morgan added that backlash from the PRRD’s June 8 committee of the whole meeting over a voluntary treaty land sharing network caused some concern from local First Nations over posting their agreements, fearing similar backlash from the public.
Forest added that the ministry is aware of concerns over community pastures and has previously connected with communities in Rose Prairie and Cecil Lake over Doig River First Nation land selections.
Area E Director Dan Rose said while he’s aware TLE agreements have been finalized, no one has seen the complete agreements yet, expressing that they’re not easy to track online and that he’s unsure you can consider them finalized if resolutions haven’t been found with tenure holders.
“I don’t know how you can finalize agreements without that being done. So, the agreements are finalized, but there’s still tenure – those things haven’t been negotiated yet or settled,” he said. “Don’t know how they’re finalized, and that’s the worrisome part.”
He added that land selection has been the easy part, but work needs to be done to bring the language surrounding TLE agreements forward to the public.
“I think you need to get the language out there. So, people can understand that there is a process in how that evolves and how you come to these agreements,” said Rose.
Morgan said they expect to have finalized agreements published by the end of the year, noting the Peace Region isn’t the only place where land transfers are happening under Treaty 8 and that the ministry intends to fairly compensate or accommodate tenure holders when conflicts and issues arise.
“We are working to get the agreements out, and you know, it’s the province’s responsibility and the province that takes the fall for that. And the commitment is there,” said Morgan.
Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darryl Krakowka said the ministry’s approach has been more transparent compared to the past, noting his municipality is interested in assisting First Nations with selections.
“We always ask if there is some way we can assist, help, push. They have some land selections up by Tumbler Ridge. Some of their ideas and those land selections, I think is, is a benefit to our community,” he said.
Krakowka also expressed concern over current drought conditions and the need to preserve community pastures.
“It’s continuously happening in the Peace, so I think we’ve really got to tread lightly when it comes to those community pastures,” said Krakowka.
Taylor Mayor Brent Taillefer said the ministry has a lot of work ahead in staying on top of their communication and feels local governments can assist.
“If we can be a little bit of assistance, I think that we should be on the road together and helping get the message out. But we need the information, and we need it early enough to be able to get it out before something’s already done,” he said.