January 6, 2022 By B.C. First Nations Forestry Council
First Nations continue to call for an immediate reset to the process used by the province to engage with Nations on changes to modernize forest policy in B.C. Letters sent from several First Nations to Minister Katrine Conroy, in December 2021, cite serious concerns with both the forest policy engagement topics and process.
“Your government’s proposed timeline does not allow for meaningful and informed consultation required by provincial law,” Chief Councillor Brian Tate of the Ditidaht Nation tells Minister Conroy in his letter. “This behaviour is inconsistent with the Declaration Act, and not conducive to renewing the relationship between First Nations and the province, which your government claims to be deeply committed to.”
“As rights holders over our unceded territory, we are not stakeholders,” says Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band in his letter to Minister Conroy. “Under DRIPA, the changes being proposed to forest legislation, policies and regulations require our prior, informed consent.”
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD) set out an engagement process and timeline several First Nations describe as disrespectful, compressed, flawed and disingenuous. Nations have expressed they need more time and technical expertise to respond in an informed and meaningful manner to proposed policy changes. These same concerns were outlined in a joint letter to Premier Horgan from the B.C. First Nations Forestry Council and 20 First Nations in September 2021.
“This seems like a box-ticking exercise by government,” says Chief Bill Williams, president of the Forestry Council “B.C. rammed through significant changes to forest legislation, through Bills 23 and 28, without any meaningful First Nation participation. Nations need to have real input into changes to modernize forest policy that impact their lands and rights, including drafting of legislation.”
“Letters from FLNRORD to Nations state that the ministry has heard from ‘125 Nations and that they are working in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Nations,’ but we don’t know who they are working with. The government is not working with us.” adds Dr. Charlene Higgins, CEO, of the Forestry Council.
Since June 2021 the Forestry Council has offered to work collaboratively with the province on engaging First Nations on forest policy modernization.
“Nations are really frustrated. The new year presents an opportunity for the province to work with us in creating a meaningful process for First Nations to engage on changes to forest policies, and ways to better reflect Indigenous priorities, values, and rights in the modernization of forest policy in B.C.,” says Higgins. “We hope the province takes this opportunity.”
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