Chairperson, Regional District of Nanaimo
Building future relationships with First Nations guides RDN participation in Treaty Process
With the federal election over, our attention will return to local and provincial issues. Because of the election, one local issue that didn't receive much coverage was the decision reached at Regional of Nanaimo Board November 14th meeting on Treaty Negotiations. At that meeting, we agreed to continue supporting our two Board members' participation in the Snuneymuxw (Nanaimo) First Nation Treaty Process and in discussions that will explore how we will work together as governments in the future.
The Snuneymuxw Treaty Process is the most advanced of any First Nations negotiations in the RDN. This past January, the Snuneymuxw First Nation (SFN) rejected an initial treaty proposal that included 1,862 hectares of Crown land. The treaty process underway could still result in the first "urban treaty" in Canada if, as anticipated, an Agreement in Principle is reached early next year. So, why would RDN Board redefine its involvement on the Treaty Advisory Committee? The reason is that "fee simple" or privately owned lands that are purchased by the SFN on a "willing seller willing buyer" basis are now on the table as part of settlement lands for the treaty.
The Board has made it clear that we have no problem with a First Nation owning land as any other individual or group would. The difference is that if these lands are designated "settlement lands" through the treaty then they would be under the jurisdiction of the first Nations and be exempt from local zoning and the Official Community Plans that they are currently governed under. That could mean major changes in how land in the region is used for resource, residential and commercial purposes and could provide significantly higher densities in areas not planned for such development. Our representatives have made the Board's position clear: we cannot and will not be involved in any removal of land from our jurisdiction without full consultation and involvement of local residents.
The RDN is not directly involved in local treaty negotiations but is part of Treaty Advisory Committee through our representatives Director Elaine Hamilton and Director Loyd Sherry. The role local government must play in the long term success of any treaty arrangement has been recognized by government negotiators. An Intergovernmental Working Group has been formed to clarify the roles of local government, their authority and requirements for operating in a post treaty environment.
Despite our position against including fee simple lands in settlement lands, we recognize that participating in the treaty process is crucial to resolving issues that would hinder a good working relationship with the Snuneymuxw once a treaty is signed. These include reaching agreements on regional planning, the Growth Management Plan, and how First Nations would participate on the Regional Board. While one of the RDN's main concerns is how the future use of settlement lands will be coordinated with local land uses, the Snuneymuxw First Nation must address the need for sewer, water and other services that the regional district may provide.
The RDN Board sees many benefits to the certainty a treaty agreement will bring to the region and all its residents. But that certainty should not be achieved at expense of agreements that will make it impossible to work together in the future.