By Alex Rinfret in Port Clements and Heather Ramsay in Sandspit–The government of British Columbia does not intend to give up its “ownership” of the islands, provincial representative Jose Villa-Arce told Port Clements residents at a meeting Tuesday (May 23) to share information about the negotiations between the province and the Haida Nation.
“There is a major difference of opinion between the province and the Haida Nation on the land ownership issue,” Mr. Villa-Arce said. “We’re not walking away. We’re not walking away to let this become a federal jurisdiction, or a Haida Nation, as was once envisioned.”
Mr. Villa-Arce said the province is aware the Council of the Haida Nation has a completely different point of view. The two parties have agreed to move forward by coming to an understanding about how to use the land, instead of getting bogged down in arguments about who owns it.
Until now, the provincial government has not been particularly good at coming back with new ideas about how to talk to the Haida Nation, but this time is different, Mr. Villa-Arce told the 50 or so people who attended the meeting.
The negotiations currently underway should result in certainty about land use, he said. The CHN and the province have agreed to what he called a “very aggressive schedule of negotiations” which should be complete by December, he said. (The next negotiating session is scheduled for May 29, 30 and 31.)
Another new feature of these negotiations is the community viability study, which is being overseen by a group of representatives from every islands community. The CHN insisted on this study and on the all-islands involvement, Mr. Villa-Arce said. It should result in important information about the sustainability of local communities, which will be used in the provincial-CHN negotiations.
Port mayor Cory Delves told residents the meeting was held to give them an opportunity to ask questions or express frustration. Port, which depends on the forest industry for the majority of jobs in town, will be affected by the outcome of the negotiations, he said.
“There’s going to be some reduction of cut that will potentially impact what we all do on a daily basis,” he said.
CHN vice-president Arnie Bellis told residents there has been some confusion about the land use plan and the current negotiations. The land use plan is a joint effort by the CHN and the province, which involved local representatives of various sectors during the first stage, which has led to the current government-to-government negotiations about the plan.
The other negotiations going on between the two governments are to flesh out the commitments made in a letter of understanding reached following the last spring’s blockade of TFL 39 logging roads. There are linkages between the two negotiation processes, but there are also differences, Mr. Bellis said.
The province agreed three weeks ago to temporarily protect 56,000 hectares of forested land throughout the islands which the Haida Land Use Vision had identified as important. The outcome of the negotiations will determine whether all or a portion of these areas receive permanent protection. The province is under no obligation to extend the protection if there is no land use plan in place by the time the order expires next May, Mr. Villa-Arce said.
A few Port residents and business owners made comments, including Abfam Enterprises owner Jim Abbott, who said it seemed like the process was taking a long time, and that he would like to see land claims settled so islands businesses can attract investment.
Mr. Bellis responded that the Haida Nation does not have a land claim, and that it does not use the word “settlement” any longer.
“We’re not claiming anything,” he said. “We know whose it is.”
Rather than a settlement, the Haida Nation is seeking a new relationship with Canada and BC, he said.
Mr. Villa-Arce told Mr. Abbott he was absolutely right about the process taking a long time, and that’s why the two governments had agreed to complete negotiations in the relatively quick time frame of the next seven months.
Mr. Villa-Arce repeated the province’s position to a room of Sandspit residents at the community hall on May 24. “We are not ceding the Queen Charlotte Islands to anyone, period,” he said.
“Do things change? Yes. Could First Nations become a provincial government. The answer BC would give you is no.”
He admitted this is controversial and said the Haida hold a very different position.
“Different points of view will separate us for a long time,” he said.
“But we can’t go to our separate rooms and not talk to each other at all.”
The purpose of the meeting, a follow-up to an April 12 meeting, said Moresby Island Management Committee chair Gail Henry, was for the residents of Sandspit to speak with the government representative in the negotiations with the Haida. She says the community wanted to know those who are representing them her their concerns. The meeting was in two parts, first a question and answer session and second a brainstorming session on where Sandspit should head in the future.
Questions from the floor included concerns over taxation, policing, forestry concerns, economic development and systems of government.
Mr. Villa-Arce said that in the future a different approach to government on the islands is a possibility, but discussions are a long way from that at the moment.
He also said any changes to governance structure on the islands would remain part of the current constitutional system and adheres to the Charter of Rights. The Nisga’a government on the mainland .”Â…is not outside the constitution, it is within it,” he said.
Policing is also something that would remain within the constitutional responsibilities as the province sees it, no matter who is running it.
As for taxation, he says “private property is private property – end of story.”
He said he is not aware of any Supreme Court case where private property has been taken away. Similarly, even if governments have been forced to pay compensation to First Nations, property owners have not been held ransom.
Residents were concerned they would be taxed off their properties. Mr. Villa-Arce said that as is outlined in the Nisga’a Treaty, the province’s position is that no non-aboriginal people could be taxed by a new system of government without representation.
“No matter who you give taxation to they must balance services with taxation,” he said.
He said if someday Sandspit residents found themselves in (for lack of a better term) Haida Lands, they would still be citizens of BC.
But would the provincial government buy people out because of a change in government? No.
For now, the province is focusing on the community viability process and finishing the government to government negotiations in the Land Use Process.
He said it was important to get the protected areas settled for a year, so that the Land Use Plan could be finalized.
People expressed frustration over the length of time it takes to complete the land use process, not to mention confusion about the process in general.
Mr. Villa-Arce said to think of the LUP as a zoning exercise which will lay the foundation for where resource extraction and other economic processes could take place.
Other specific questions about small business sales arose and district manager Len Munt, who was also in attendance, said the Ministry of Forests must consult with the Haida even on simple permits to harvest after the November 2004 Supreme Court decision.
“If there is reasonable and probably grounds to believe title is there you have to consult,” he said.
Others raised concerns about the bear hunt and if this was ended would the CHN be satisfied, or would sportfishing and deer hunting be next.
Mr. Villa-Arce said the province does not intend to end the bear hunt, but that there are some sportfishing lodges operating without proper tenures and something must be done about that.
It was close to 10 pm before the second part of the meeting got underway. Ms Henry said people took inventory on what Sandspit has, such as the loop road, Grey Bay, hotels, the harbour and more.
The group decided to talk with government about whose responsibility it is to maintain the loop road in better condition and about getting an economic development officer on board to help residents with alternative economic ideas.