Maximizing the "new relationship"

Dogwood Initiative believes the choices made by key Aboriginal peoplesover the next few years will determine the future of the BritishColumbia’s environment and economy.

Over the last few years wehave been helping First Nations assert their title and challengelogging and fossil fuel tenures because we believe this approachprovides the best available leverage for promoting sustainability andland reform in British Columbia.

Events over the last twoyears have revealed the wisdom of this strategy as a series of courtdecisions and political actions have forced the governmentprogressively to take First Nations’ interests more seriously.

Recentlythis resulted in a potentially precedent setting “New Relationshipagreement between the majority of BC First Nations and the provincialgovernment. This New Relationship process could revolutionize resourcemanagement in BC and create new paths towards sustainability.

Overthe last few weeks, information about the “New Relationship documentthe BC Premier’s office has been negotiating with key Aboriginalleaders has begun to leak out. It should be no surprise that all theAboriginal leaders involved in the negotiations are supporters of theTitle & Rights Alliance which was launched last year.
ColumnistLes Leyne of the Victoria Times Colonist described the import of thenew process, In short [the New Relationship] suggests that FirstNations are about to get a lot more clout when it comes to decidingresource issues, and a lot more revenue sharing if they approvedevelopment of those resources.

Recent Headlines tell the evolving story:

Althoughthe potential new relationship is now just words on paper, it signalsthat after many decades of conflict a fundamental shift may beoccurring that could quickly move British Columbia toward sustainableland reforms. The document is full of references to sustainability. Forexample one of the main goals is:

To ensure that lands andresources are managed in accordance with First Nations laws, knowledgeand values and that resource development is carried out in asustainable manner including the primary responsibility of preservinghealthy lands, resources and ecosystems for present and futuregenerations …

The potential for sustainable land reform is enormous. As columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote,
Shareddecision-making”, would become the rule on management of Crown land andresources, including development, revenue collection and environmentalregulation.

There’s acknowledgement, too, that aboriginal self-government needsto be something more than akin to municipal status. The new approachenvisages first nations “exercising their jurisdiction over the use ofland and resources through their own structures.”

The shiftcomes about as the result of related efforts to undermine the legal andfinancial certainty large resource companies had over lands andresources in BC. The province’s attempts to de-regulate and corporatizedecision making are being unraveled through the courts. But the Haidaand Taku rulings from Canada’s Supreme Court, the recent lower courtvictories by Huu-ay-aht, Okanagan nations, Blueberry and coastalnations fighting fish farms, along with upcoming constitutionalchallenges by Hupacasath, Haida, Tseshaht and Gitanyow are only part ofthe story.

Political actions by key First Nations also wereinstrumental in pushing the BC government forward. The Title &Rights Alliance rally last May was a transformative event. Despite theaggressive rhetoric following the rally, after 3000 youth, elders andleaders came to Victoria and marched on the legislature, the governmentbegan overtures to discuss potential new relationships. Momentumincreased after the Haida’s victory in November, but it truly took offonly after blockades against unsustainable activities began springingup across BC.

The Haida Gwaii uprising and the resulting agreement have received the most attention, but the Tahltan’s standoff against Shell Canada in the Stikine/Skeena and their Elders’ moratorium onany new projects, the Tsawataineuk’s ongoing blockade against Interforon BC’s coast, the Blueberry blockade against oil & gas roadbuilding and exploration in the Peace region, the Tl’azt’en’smoratorium on mining, the Xwmalhkwu’s battle against fish farms and thecoastal nations direct action against the herring roe fishery providedthe impetus to make negotiating worthwhile.

Another Les Leyne’s column captured this dynamic. Thenative leaders say the government must make a bold shift in how theprovincial Crown conducts business, not only because of Haida and Taku,but also because of the growing level of conflict and uncertainty. Theprovince realized that it can no longer be “business as usual.”

Whilethe talk sounds good and the words on paper are positive, hard workremains. Already logging companies are making rumblings against thedeal. To seize the opportunity and move the new relationship forward,increased pressure will be needed. And real questions remain about thegovernment’s commitment–it won’t be easy for this government toreverse the direction from the pro-industry, anti-native,anti-environmental approach it has implemented to date.

Now thatshared decision-making is on the table, a wide spectrum of options isavailable. First Nations must come together to ensure the opportunityis not lost. But progressives need to work together with First Nationsto ensure that they receive all the help they need to push forsustainable land use reform.

Now is the crucial time for localinitiatives to take advantage of the momentum created by the recentcourt decisions and the New Relationship agreement.

Action isrequired if communities and First Nations are to maximize theiropportunities. Dogwood Initiative intends to help these communities andFirst Nations transform the words into realized opportunities forsustainable land reform.

We will keep you posted as events unfold.

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