Local governments need to fund First Nations liasion programs

March 17 Editorial

Wednesday, March 18 2015

As of press time, both the Islands Trust and Regional District of Nanaimo had, in their approved budgets, monies allocated for improving and strengthening relationships with the First Nations communities within their respective local government areas.

The Regional District of Nanaimo looks to be funding an actual staff position (whether that is part-time or full-time is yet to be seen). The Islands Trust Council decided at its March meeting this past week to set aside $50,000 for First Nations relationship building, but did not limit the funding to a staff position.

Both methods have strengths. As Gabriola Trustee Melanie Mamoser pointed out, the Trust’s method will give current staff more flexibility in using the monies. It is also a safer direction for the Council to go politically, as there are trustees on Council currently under pressure from their local trust areas to hold the line, or even reduce, the taxes paid in to the Islands Trust. From the RDN side of things, having a specific staff person on the job of ‘First Nations Liasion’ means there will always be someone paying attention to how decisions made will impact First Nations relationships.

Of the two directions, the RDN’s is the one that will need to be the one used in the long term. In 2014, the provincial court quashed the Whistler Official Community Plan changes on the basis that the Province had not consulted First Nations sufficiently before approving it. This decision alone means when there is a statuatory requirement on local governments (like the Islands Trust) to consult with First Nations and other neighbouring jurisdiciton on the impact of OCP or Land-Use Bylaw changes - someone is going to have to ensure that every possible way of getting feedback from First Nations has been done.

It is not the cheapest method in the short-term. But if, in the long-term, it means bylaw amendments (such as the Riparian Area Regulations) and others can actually be approved by the province because the Trust can do it’s due diligence, then it works out cheaper for taxpayers in the long run.

And outside of the financial cost - there can only be positives in funding a position which continues to work on opening up lines of communication. One which ensures First Nations, the Trust and the RDN are talking to one another in a way which respects culture, tradition, and ensures the future health of a shared community.