As the province works toward implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in an era of reconciliation, a Kamloops councillor and Union of BC Municipalities past-president wants local and regional governments at the table.
Calling it a “practical consideration,” Arjun Singh raised the issue at last week’s Thompson-Nicola Regional District meeting and again this week during a community to community forum between the city and Tk’emlups te Secwépemc.
“What we’re seeing sometimes is that when the province engages only First Nations communities at the beginning and doesn’t even have local governments at the table, the outcomes can be not as good at the end,” Singh told KTW.
“A good example of that is what happened with the mountain caribou in the east parts of the province, where, basically, the province was in negotiation with some Indigenous groups in the northeast of the province. Then people in the end, when it became public, were suspicious and unhappy.”
On Oct. 17, the TNRD heard from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and a representative of the five Nicola Valley First Nations chiefs about a pilot project in the Nicola Valley that aims to better protect water systems.
The regional district was told a historic, first-of-its-kind agreement to manage water resources was signed in 2018 between the province and Indigenous governments.
“There’s not enough water, there’s too many demands on water,” Nadia Joe, representing the five Nicola chiefs, told the TNRD.
Forests ministry representative Tammy Caruso said the province is committed to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with the pilot project’s goal reconciliation and working with First Nations partners to address water issues in the Nicola watershed.
Underway are a series of projects and meetings, which included the TNRD presentation.
However, the process thus far has irked Merritt Mayor Linda Brown.
“The City of Merritt is not part of this at all,” Brown told the TNRD board. “And about a year ago, I had a discussion with the chiefs and they just said, ‘No, you’re not part of this study, but we’ll keep you in mind as we go through it.’ So, when I’m hearing them talk about too many demands on the water and solutions that could potentially be put forward from this group, I have difficulty not being involved in it because this runs right through our city.”
Acknowledging the importance of the province implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including in environmental assessments and child and family issues, Singh raised the issue of local government involvement.
He advised the delegation he has recently experienced engagement issues with communities and stressed the role of municipalities in explaining issues impacting constituents. In addition, Singh wants a clear process for resolving potential disputes. He made a notice of motion to send letters to the province and Nicola chiefs, requesting the TNRD be included in the process. That motion carried.
“Ultimately, we want to do this in a very respectful way… but I think it’s important for them to also know that it’s something we’re interested in being involved with,” Singh said in making his motion.
“This is going to replicate itself for the regional district many times over the next many years. And if we don’t get these first things right, we’re going to have trouble doing it, the further the process goes. I think it’s important for us to salvage that right off the bat. That’s something I’d like to see happen.”
Singh returned to the issue on Monday during a community-to-community forum between the city and Tk’emlups.
The meeting had turned toward talks between the First Nation and province over the future of the former Stuart Wood elementary, a downtown heritage site eyed as a future Kamloops-Tk’emlups joint-use cultural site and museum.
Singh said he hopes the city will be included in talks based on the “very good” relationship between Kamloops and Tk’emlups.
Singh told KTW he does not feel the city has thus far been left out of that process, but hopes to maintain a good working relationship in the future. Tk’emlups Coun. Katy Gottfriedson called the situation “complicated” and said she understands the frustration, noting First Nations have for generations lived with the frustration of not being consulted in issues.
“We hope to work collaboratively and getting that cleaned up in the near future,” she said.