Aug 23, 2007

Tsimshian: Landrights Consultation Needed

Tsimshian groups are worried by plans of the Provincial government to develop land into an industrial park. They argue that further consultation is needed before the development proceeds.

Tsimshian groups are worried by plans of the Provincial government to develop land into an industrial park. They argue that further consultation is needed before the development proceeds.

Below is an article published by The Terrance Standard:

Two coastal Tsimshian groups want a say in a plan by the city and neighbouring Kitselas First Nation to develop a light industrial park adjacent to the airport here.

The Metlakatla and the Allied Tsimshian Tribes from Lax Kw’alaams base their claim on past traditional use of the land, the ownership of which the province wants to transfer to the city.

That’s a problem for the Kitselas who view the airport lands as part of their core lands and their partnership with the city is regarded as meeting the test that there be aboriginal approval for development on raw Crown lands.

The matter is coming to a head because the province has published legal notices asking that anyone with an interest in the lands transfer comment by Aug. 31.

A filing by the Metlakatla and Allied Tsimshian Tribes would then require the province to engage them in a series of consultations, stalling the development project long wanted by the city.

The policy of speaking with aboriginal groups concerning development on their traditional territory arises from key court cases which have set up consult and accommodate requirements.

Metlakatla chief councillor Harold Leighton said the claim by his village and that of Lax Kw’alaams stems from traditional use of the land for food gathering.

“We’ve put together our historical interest in the area and we will be filing it and looking forward to discussing it with the province,” he said last week.

“We will be asking the province to consult with us on this matter.”

Although this appears to be a matter of a land claims overlap, Leighton was confident there would be a resolution.

“I’m confident we can work it out,” he said.

Land claims overlaps aren’t new and continually arise as aboriginal groups seek to define their territory leading up to treaty negotiations or to work on economic development plans.

Kitselas chief councillor Glenn Bennett has said the “consult and accommodate” requirements offer economic and social benefits that did not exist previously.

“However, these opportunities will continue to elude us if we are unable to achieve a workable level of certainty with respect to our core territories,” he said in a letter addressing the Metlakatla Lax Kw’alaams claim.

“It is core to our economic and future treaty objectives,” said Bennett in the same letter of the airport lands. “In our view, no other First Nation has the degree of attachment to this area that Kitselas has.”

Bennett has suggested the Tsimshian First Nations Treaty Society, which represents five Tsimshian First Nations groups on treaty talks, be given the job of working on overlap solutions.

Resolutions are important not only for specific projects but for treaties in general, said Bennett.

Society chief negotiator Gerald Wesley says there have been several discussions but that nothing formal has been set out yet on overlaps.

“There’s general agreement we need to pay attention to internal boundary issues,” Wesley said last week [15 August 2007]. “The Terrace airport lands issue is being viewed as an example of what we face.”

Wesley added that the same issue has also come up concerning logging by aboriginal companies in the area.

Just as is the case with Metlakatla chief councillor Leighton, Wesley is confident there will be solutions found.

The agreement between the province and the city call for 475 hectares to be transferred by the province to the city and to establish an option for the city to buy another 895 hectares over the next 50 years.

The deal between the city and the Kitselas calls for a joint partnership to attract users for the lands and to manage development.

Kitselas officials call the prospect of an industrial park as one of several initiatives to develop an economic base for themselves and for the region.