Government involvement unnecessary and unwanted, say residents, as it will only create division with First Nations neighbours.
Residents voiced their opposition to a treaty land sharing network at a special committee of the whole meeting hosted by the PRRD on June 28, expressing deep concerns for division between indigenous and settler populations.
While the PRRD has since withdrawn their support for the network, a second meeting was promised to the public to better accommodate residents.
Nor’Pioneer Women’s Institute Vice President Sigrid Tobler, Helen Harris with the Regional Cattlemen's Association, and longtime Peace resident Jim Little, representing local landowners, appeared as a delegation to speak on the issue.
Tobler said the sharing model used in Saskatchewan is in its infancy, with a small number of participants, and has yet to be proven in the long-term.
“It arose in the aftermath of a deadly incident involving trespassing - no one wants to see this type of confrontation repeated here,” said Tobler. “It would be advisable to wait and see if the Saskatchewan land sharing project is successful in the long-run, before attempting to replicate it here.”
Tobler also questioned the need for a land sharing network, noting that agriculture makes up a very small percentage of land within the Treaty 8 region. BC differs from Saskatchewan, with over 90 percent of the province being crown land, which can be used by the public for traditional indigenous activities.
Landowners want to be consulted and informed on issues affecting their livelihood, said Tobler, noting an agricultural advisory committee could be a voice for rural residents, and is aware the PRRD has considered re-establishing one.
“Access to private land is an ongoing issue for many farmers and ranchers who see their way of life compromised by other interest groups. Landowners want a positive relationship with anyone entering their land - these relationships are based on trust, and respect, and develop over time,” said Tobler. “Negative experiences make many reluctant to allow strangers on their property.”
With farming roots in Cecil Lake as the daughter of a landed immigrant, Harris said ranchers and First Nations have always been neighbours with a mutual respect for the land, noting many are resentful of the implication that settlers are directly responsible for the hurt suffered by indigenous people.
“This was done by government, and believing that agricultural landowners are the problem is only going to cause more division,” said Harris. No cattlemen have been consulted with by SCION Strategies, she added.
Harris said she feels the Saskatchewan model has extreme views at odds with the history of hard-working settlers who purchased and developed the land with little resources - it was never stolen from First Nations.
“If a BC land sharing network is created, it must not include these extreme views that the Saskatchewan model has in its resource pages. These views are that First Nations should be able to go wherever they want, and see it as demeaning to ask permission of a private landowner,” said Harris.
The Agricultural Land Commission also has a role to play, added Harris, noting that landowners are already subject to many restrictions and regulations - with many farmers already leaving the industry due to an uncertain future.
“I can say that mutual respect and support from First Nations for agriculture and also from our urban neighbours would go a long way to heal rifts and allay concerns regarding our future and providing food security,” said Harris.
A retired agrologist, forester, and appraiser, Little worked for the BC lands department from 1967 to 2002, often dealing with issues of crown land and land transfer.
“Landowners that have contacted me are not interested in this proposal and are concerned that it could be made compulsory in time,” said Little, noting landowners are already being directed with land use due to water licences required by the province to address water shortages.
Little further noted that the proposal made by SCION Strategies wasn’t made clear to the public, nor was there any background information available until after the public backlash on June 8.
“We have to remember that private land is the public’s castle,” said Little.
Landowners are capable of making land use agreements without PRRD involvement and have done so for a long time, he added.
When the floor opened to gallery comments, North Peace Cattlemen’s Association President Renee Ardill noted that SCION Strategies never consulted with them, and doesn’t believe a government program is needed.
“There was no consultation with the cattlemen’s association about this program. Personally, I do not have a problem with First Nations people coming onto our land and doing things, as long as we talk about it as neighbours,” said Ardill.
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson has been a guest of hers, she added, out hunting elk.
“All this is doing is driving a wedge between us and the indigenous people, which the government is really good at. I’ve been saying right from the start that we all need to be at the table,” said Ardill. “Us, the indigenous people, and leave the government the hell out of it - the government screwed this up 100 years ago and if it’s left to them, they’ll do it again.”
PRRD board directors made no comments during the special committee of the whole meeting, but voted in favour of issuing an apology to Treaty 8 First Nations and the public at their June 29 board meeting.
The apology was sparked by a June 16 letter to the PRRD from Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, and West Moberly First Nations, expressing concerns and seeking accountability over anti-indigenous remarks made during the June 8 meeting.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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