A first-of-its-kind tripartite emergency management agreement with a First Nations government in Canada was unveiled in Vancouver, B.C. Saturday morning at the Pan Pacific.
Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, announced the agreement which has been signed between the federal, provincial and Tsilhqot’in National governments.
“It’s truly an historic agreement,” Wilson-Raybould said. “Last year’s devastating wildfire season underscored the need to strengthen our collective emergency response system. The lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities made a bad situation even worse.”
Wilson-Raybould said it is important to recognize the courage, strength and determination of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, the firefighters and first responders who safeguarded their communities and kept their members safe in the summer of 2017.
“In face of this crisis, the leadership and response of the Tsilhqot’in Nation impressed upon me this — there is nothing more fundamental to any government than its ability to protect its citizens,” she said, noting going forward it will be critical to collectively draw on the lessons learned from the 2017 wildfires to ensure First Nations are supported during emergencies in a manner that respects their inherent right to self-determination.
Tl’etinqox Chief and TNG tribal chair Joe Alphonse said the agreement is a “huge” achievement for his community.
“This is a start and we still have a lot of work to do, but I’m confident with the expertise and the commitment to get things right it will happen,” Alphonse said. “Fires and flooding are the new norm and we better be prepared. That’s what we learned last summer.”
Alphonse said his community was one of the first in Canadian history to defy an evacuation order when they did that last summer.
“We fought for our right to stay on our reserve land. We are not signing our authority over to anyone. My recommendation to any First Nation out there is don’t talk about self-determination — go out and do it.”
Alphonse said his people have traditionally utilized fire to manage forests and know the forests in the area.
“In 2009 and 2010 we were evacuated and after 2010 we said we would never evacuate again. We have trained up to 400 firefighters and have teamed up with Tsi Del Del Forestry Enterprises and its equipment.”
The tripartite agreement comes within weeks of the federal government’s exoneration of the Tsilhqot’in war chiefs that were hanged in the 1860s and almost four years after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Tsilhqot’in rights and title case.
Now, Alphonse said, with the Tshilqot’in want to get control of all aspects of their own lives, including emergency management.
“We would like to have our own emergency response and training centre,” he added. “We didn’t fight for Aboriginal title to hand it over in the future. Any crisis that hits, we’ll take it on. Even if we fail, we will have gained knowledge.”
Minister of public safety and solicitor general Mike Farnworth said the agreement is a significant step for B.C.
“You are the people on the land and the ground and we need to learn from your expertise,” Farnworth told the First Nation leaders. “We know mistakes were made and we want to do better.”
Farnworth said the government wants to make emergency management better for everyone in the province, including First Nations.
“We are working together to make sure our emergency management educational materials are culturally sensitive and accessible for Indigenous communities,” Farnworth said. “This all stems from our 10-year agreement with the Government of Canada to deliver emergency management support to First Nations communities on reserve.”
Joining Alphonse in Vancouver were TNG chiefs Jimmy Lulua, Francis Laceese, Otis Guichon Sr. and Roy Stump.
Tl’esqox youth ambassador Peyal Laceese drummed and sang an opening song while Musqueam elder Shane Pointe said a prayer and welcoming to traditional territory.