The B.C. government’s pledge to ensure “free, prior and informed consent” for land use changes has been targeted by a group of Indigenous communities who want to grow their local forest economies.
The B.C. First Nations Forestry Council has rejected the province’s effort to work with them to redistribute Crown forest resources, citing a maze of complicated technical questions sent to First Nations with insufficient time for remote communities to answer them.
“The process is being expedited during a time of crisis due to wildfires,” Chief Bill Williams, president of the council, said in a letter to Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy and made public Sept. 9. “The timeline for consultation is disrespectful, compressed and expedited, and does not allow for meaningful and informed consultation.”
The letter is signed by Williams, a hereditary chief of the Seaichem Reserve the Squamish Nation, and supported by the Ashcroft, Canim Lake, Cook’s Ferry, Williams Lake, Upper Nicola and Little Shuswap Lake Indian Bands, as well as the Nisga’a Lisims Government, Nk’Mip Forestry, T’Se’kame Forestry and the Foothills, Fort Nelson, Katzie, Kitselas, Lhtako, Lil’wat, Nuchatlaht, Skin Tyee, Stswecem’c-Xgat’tem, Tla’amin and Tsay Keh Dene First Nations.
The group say a forest ministry “intentions paper” issued this spring that calls for sweeping changes to forest policy and Indigenous participation was “developed internally by ministry staff with no input from First Nations.”
The letter calls for an extension to the end of 2021 for the consultation. In a statement to Black Press, the forests ministry did not respond directly when asked if the extension is being considered.
“The intentions paper is about starting a conversation,” the ministry stated. “It draws upon the extensive engagement we’ve done with First Nations and others on initiatives like the First Nations Forest Strategy, Interior Forest Sector Renewal, Coast Forest Sector Renewal, Forest and Range Practices Act improvement and the Old Growth Strategic Review.
“Engagement will be ongoing in the intentions paper as we work to reshape how forests are managed, and how to increase the participation of Indigenous people in the forest sector.”