Atlin residents are angry.
Many complain the BC government has turned the tables, treating non-native residents in a manner reminiscent of how it has treated native people for years.
Non-native residents complain their government doesn’t care about their voice and is acting autonomously.
In March, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, in whose traditional territory Atlin is situated, reached an interim agreement with BC on a land-use planning protocol for the Atlin and Taku River areas.
This agreement, titled the Framework Agreement for Shared Decision-Making Respecting Land Use and Wildlife Management, took 15 months to draft.
The agreement received formal approval from the First Nation’s joint clan meeting in late May and needs BC cabinet approval to proceed.
That approval is expected in the summer or early fall.
Actual treaty settlement is a separate issue and is many years from resolution.
The framework agreement sets out the purpose and scope of joint-planning efforts to be undertaken by BC and the First Nation over the next three years concerning land use, freshwater fish and wildlife management.
These discussions are to be overseen by a government-to-government joint land forum and will involve shared decision-making in the development of various plans and recommendations.
Many Atlin residents are upset about the lack of consultation.
They should have been involved laying out the groundwork for anything that will affect their lives so directly, they say.
And they should have been included in the process that led to the development of the framework.
Atlin is an unincorporated settlement and has no town council or mayor.
The Atlin Advisory Planning Commission is the community’s only elected body and the closest thing to a municipal authority.
The volunteer council attends to land applications and referrals.
The first time the community at large was informed of the content of the framework agreement was at a public information meeting held on May 30 at the Globe Theatre.
The meeting was convened by the planning commission in conjunction with the BC Integrated Land Management Bureau.
Concerned citizens filled the theatre.
The entire planning commission was in attendance.
BC sent two representatives.
The Taku River Tlingit First Nation sent one technician. The First Nation’s lands manager also attended, but was not introduced to the public.
The BC project manager and the planning officer from the land management bureau gave a brief presentation.
Then came an onslaught of questions.
“The whole process is flawed,” said one resident.
“We’re being pushed into two camps,” said another.
“This is a poor start. We need to start with a positive feeling,” said another.
Though the non-Tlingit residents were vocal in their opposition to the process, most were not opposed to the concept of a land-use plan.
“We’re happy that (the First Nation and BC) got this together, but the citizens of BC should have more say than just a stakeholder,” said one resident.
There’s a fair bit of confusion about who should be talking to whom, said Sandra Jack, spokesperson for the Taku River Tlingit.
“It’s not up to TRTFN to consult with the AAPC and the non-Tlingit people,” said Jack the day after the meeting.
“I think we have to remember that the government that is representing the non-Tlingit people is the BC government.”
The First Nation is interested in building a relationship with the Atlin planning commission, but how that is done is important, she said.
You can’t have the First Nation establishing a process that makes us responsible for providing that information to the planning commission because that is not our mandate.
“BC is obviously missing the mark,” she said.
Community consultation must be clarified, Kevin Kriese, project director of the land management bureau, said from Smithers.
“We are three years away from having a completed land-use plan,” said Kriese. “The framework agreement is a preliminary step that we’ve been working on that will lead toward the development of a planning process.”
There needs to be a robust community-engagement process to reach third parties, said Kriese.
In this three-million-hectare planning area, third parties include the planning commission, stakeholders such as the mining, forestry, and outfitting industries, Atlin residents and many interests that are not from the Atlin area, such as those in Sheslay and Telegraph Creek.
Additionally, the adjacent First Nations in Teslin and Carcross-Tagish that have interests within the area will also be engaged.
“We don’t have a mandate yet to even go ahead and do a plan. Until cabinet says, yes, I don’t want to go out to people and say, ‘Let’s design how you want to get involved in this plan,’ when it may not go ahead,” said Kriese, who has helped draft several successful land-use plans.
“We know that we need a pretty high level of support and participation in the planning process, or we wouldn’t be solving anything,” he said.
He notes Atlin is basically at the “planning to plan” phase.
“We (now) need a way to get people involved in the land-use planning process itself,” said Kriese.
“Our next step is to develop our community engagement strategy over the coming months,” he said.
“Based on the community feedback (from the meeting) we can move that along faster so that if we do get approval from cabinet we can (then) say how the community can be engaged in this.”
“The idea of a government-to-government relationship is probably at the heart of what peoples’ concerns are,” said Kriese.
Three years ago, there was a formal recognition between the province and the First Nation summit of the new government-to-government relationship in BC.
This process recognized the aboriginal governments within BC as equal to the provincial government.
For details on this landmark agreement visit www.gov.bc.ca and click on The New Relationship page.
The Tlingit First Nation has confidence in this new relationship with the province, unlike the old days.
Ten years ago, cabinet would have told the ministry, ‘You go convene the planning process,’ said Kriese.
“We’d often go out to First Nations and say that we wanted to do a land-use plan, and they’d say, ‘Well, we don’t,’” he said.
“In this day and age, not having the First Nations engaged simply doesn’t allow the issues to be resolved.”
This was recognized about eight years ago when BC started to move toward involving First Nations more deeply in land-use planning.
Of the 20 or more land-use plans in BC, the last six have been done on a government-to-government basis with a significant stakeholder engagement strategy, said Kriese.
Recent processes such as the Central Coast/North Coast, the Morice, and the Sea-to-Sky all have a government-to-government process imbedded within them.
“It takes a bit of a leap of faith,” said Kriese. “It takes everyone to agree to think creatively and design some interesting processes.”
That process is internationally recognized as bringing together local communities, environmental groups, industry, First Nations and the province into an agreement, he said.
“The consultation plan will be implemented once the government-to-government land- use planning begins,” said Jack, the Tlingit’s spokesperson.
“BC has initiated an agreement with First Nations to treat them as another government so that there can be bilateral discussions going on at a government-to-government level.
“Everyone’s lives get impacted by land-use planning,” said Jack.
Through this process, some of the First Nation’s cultural, social, and economic values are not going to be met exactly in the way that they want them to be met, she said.
“People have to give up certain things to get some of their interests met, and I think that everyone that stays in the Taku River Tlingit traditional territory will be giving up a little bit of something,” she said.
“But we know that through this process at least we are going to have economic development happen in a way that is responsible, and that’s what the land-use planning process is all about.”