(Tsilhqot’in National Government file)

Province, Tsilhqot’in Nation dispute allegations of ‘secrecy’ in ongoing title land discussions

Both parties say they are committed to engaging with residents and stakeholders

The B.C. Government and Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG) hope to bring more certainty and clarity for tenure holders as an organization representing businesses west of Williams Lake continues to allege land claim negotiations are being done in secret.

Since the 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision that granted declaration of Aboriginal title to more than 1, 700 square kilometres of land to the Tsilhqot’in Nation, the Canadians For Fairness and Transparency group says there has been increasing uncertainty and lack of interest from the federal and provincial government in defending the rights and livelihoods of non-Indigenous residents and business owners who find themselves living on or near these lands.

Read More: Cariboo ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

The group alleges a landowner near Nimpo Lake had received a map from the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development that reportedly showed the lands being ceded to the Tsilhqot’in Nation are ‘far beyond’ the declared title area.

“This is being done without any input from the non-Indigenous property owners, business owners and communities that stand to be affected,” stated a Aug. 7. news release. “The creation of the Tsilhqot’in Title Lands has resulted in a range of increasingly contentious issues as business owners find themselves unable to get operating permits, guide-outfitters have had guiding permits rescinded and ranchers have been denied grazing rights.”

However, the map, according to the province, referenced old information from before the Supreme Court rendered its decision six years ago.

“We continue to be in regular contact with stakeholders affected by this decision,” stated a spokesperson with the B.C. Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, adding they are working to update their mapping system.

Read More: Xeni Gwet’in First Nation and B.C. government hold working session on long-term management of title lands

“We empathize with the uncertainty and frustration tenure holders are feeling as we work through the transition to Tsilhqot’in governance in the declared title area stemming from this court decision. We are absolutely committed to transparency in this work.”

As part of the Nenqay Deni Accord, signed following the 2014 Supreme Court decision, the B.C. Government and TNG committed to creating a process for selecting additional lands referred to as Category ‘A’ Lands for each Tsilhqot’in community in the future.

“For the last several years, the provincial focus has been on the transition of the declared title area lands and we have not yet begun negotiations of Category ‘A’ land,” the Ministry spokesperson said. “Once this process begins there will be extensive stakeholder engagement at all levels.”

Read More: MLA, B.C. ranchers call for seats at table in ongoing Aboriginal declared title land discussions

Because the Supreme Court of Canada judgment is the first declaration of Aboriginal title even simple steps can be legally and practically complex, said the TNG.

“Even though there is little direct benefit to the Tŝilhqot’in people, we have dedicated much of the past six years ensuring that people can continue to live, continue their livelihood, and enjoy the declared title lands – we have kept parks and recreation sites open to the public and maintained tenures for ranchers, guide outfitters, guided anglers, trappers and others,” the TNG stated in an e-mail to Black Press.

“We have held innumerable meetings, including one-on-one, with tenure holders and residents of the declared title area. And we have been actively working with B.C. in recent months through a series of technical workshops to bring even more certainty and clarity for tenure-holders in the declared title area.”

Read More: Lodge owner in Tsilhqot’in declared title area wants to be bought out for fair price

Both parties dispute the allegations of any secrecy. The TNG said the negotiations are taking placing according to public agreements such as the Gwets’en Nilt’i Pathway Agreement which sets out their shared pathway for progress in the declared title area.

“We will continue to work with government and engage with residents and stakeholders in the months and years to come,” the TNG e-mail noted, adding they hope to announce significant progress later this month.

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