We often hear the term "government-to-government" in relation to First Nations issues. What does it mean? Basically it acknowledges that federal, provincial, and municipal governments are not the only categories of government in Canada.
There are also First Nations governments, and as such First Nations aren't interest or stakeholder groups, nor are they the general public.
Former Premier Gordon Campbell was on the right track when he decided to engage with First Nations in real and substantial government to government relationships rather than challenge them in the courts.
In 2005, the province and the First Nations Leadership Council agreed to enter into a "New Relationship" based on principles of respect, reconciliation and recognition of aboriginal and treaty rights. The New Relationship vision was intended to reset the discussion between First Nations and the province to one where real shared decision-making and resource revenue sharing would take place in First Nation territories.
Sure, the relationship is challenging with frequent disagreement on key issues like what 'shared decision-making' look like. No, we have not closed the socio-economic gap that separates Aboriginal peoples from other British Columbians.
And major conflicts exist on a large number of fronts over mining, pipelines, natural gas and other resource projects. Yet, progress has been made.
More and more agreements are being entered into between First Nations and the province. In March, the Snuneymuxw First Nation signed a reconciliation agreement that provides economic opportunities, the return of culturally significant lands, and the adoption of an engagement protocol.
Historically, Canada and B.C. have been most at odds with First Nations over land use through the application of environmental, fisheries, forestry, and harvesting laws to a name a few.
Locally, we have seen ups and down in the relationship between local governments and First Nations around issues related to community planning and development. A lot of learning has taken place, in particular about the historic treaty entered into by the Snuneymuxw and the Crown in 1854 and its implications for decisions throughout the region. But a lot more learning and finding ways to work together still needs to happen.
An increasing number of local governments see the benefit of working collaboratively with First Nations.
In 2001 the Union of British Columbia Municipalities signed a protocol on co-operation and communications with the First Nation Summit to promote cooperative local government and First Nations relations. The Westbank First Nation and their success in the Interior is an excellent case study; they have the largest commercial and real estate developments on First Nation Lands.
Arguably their business acumen was instrumental in the rapid growth and prosperity of West Kelowna. Through persistent efforts they established a working relationship with their local governments. WFN's GDP has grown from $100 million to $458 million, they created 3,300 working opportunities and attracted $245 million in construction investment all while promoting culturally appropriate development.
Ultimately, discord stymies development, hurts the economy and prevents positive social and cultural relationships in the region.
Working in opposition to First Nations costs taxpayers money by way of legal fees and bureaucratic time. Characterizing one party as having more power than the other is divisive and does nothing to create trust or open communications. The reality is, all governments, including First Nations governments, need to learn to work together to make better decisions together.
If Nanaimo wants to "take responsibility" and make progress on its strategic priorities like waterfront enhancement, water, and transportation and mobility, building community partnerships is key.
Imagine what a vibrant Nanaimo could look like if the city and the Snuneymuxw worked together on hotel, harbour, tourism and infrastructure projects downtown and on the former CN/CP lands? There have been some positive signs in recent months of the Snuneymuxw and the city finding new and creative ways together.
Let's hope that momentum continues to build - as it can only lead to a stronger region for everyone.
Tracy Samra is a lawyer, consultant and former bureaucrat with more than 20 years experience working with Aboriginal groups in Canada. She is Cree and recently relocated with Nanaimo to live the Island life. She will write a regular column for the Daily News and can be reached via email at: NDDColumn@gmail.com
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