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2 months to comment on B.C. plan to give Crown land decision-making to First Nations

Proposed Land Act amendments are ‘critical next step,’ for B.C. says First Nations Leadership Council
The Fraser River looking west over Chilliwack on Sept. 9, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Things are moving quickly with the B.C. government poised to amend the Land Act with the aim of sharing land-use decision-making with First Nations.

There was a two-month window left as of Jan. 31 for the public to weigh in on proposed legislative changes coming from the Ministry of Water, Land, Resource Stewardship.

“The Province wants to know your thoughts on sharing public land use decision-making,” according to the EngageBC page on the Land Act.

If approved it will mark a significant shift in the way B.C. does business, particularly those needing authorization to use Crown land in terms of agriculture, communication towers, hydro power projects and more.

It has implications for the Chilliwack area in particular where there are at least 10 First Nations representing Stó:lō communities and people, as well as hundreds of agricultural operations, and other potentially impacted businesses.

Proposed changes to the Land Act explained. (EngageBC)

The Land Act allows for access and use of public land under 25 separate programs, and the provincial minister identified as responsible for the Land Act is the sole decision-maker under the act. That would change if the amendments are approved later this year.

A headline from a Jan. 24 post from the Vancouver law office of McMillan LLP reads: “BC Government consulting on new law to give Indigenous groups control over Crown land decisions.”

The post calls the proposal “unprecedented and of profound importance.” It could impact any entities using Crown land for grazing leases, mining leases, licenses of occupation, dock permits, rights of way etc.

Ministry of Water, Land, Resource Stewardship is preparing amendments to be introduced in the legislature by late spring 2024 that will enable agreements to share decision-making about public land use.

The underpinning for this direction is spelled out on the province’s web page about the Land Act proposal. The 2019 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA), the province’s framework for reconciliation will be the guiding framework. So it’s the declaration that will allow the province to enter into agreements with Indigenous governments to share decision-making on the use of public land together in this way.

“However, amendments to pre-existing legislation (like the Land Act) are required to make this happen.”

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) offered comments on the Land Act amendments on Feb. 1, after seeing some “inaccurate, regressive” takes such as the suggestion of a “veto” being offered:

“The proposed Land Act amendments are a critical next step for the Province (of B.C.) in fulfilling its commitments under the Declaration Act and to align its decision-making processes with the UN Declaration and FNLC supports the Province’s work in this regard,” the council said.

“The amendments will allow the Province to negotiate decision-making agreements with First Nations under the Land Act in the future. Any agreements that are negotiated will be subject to the public engagement processes mandated under the Declaration Act.

“Contrary to comments that have been made about the proposed Land Act amendments, they will not grant a ‘veto’ to First Nations governments, and they will not immediately alter the existing land tenure system in British Columbia.

“Rather, they will make space for the recognition and implementation of First Nations’ unceded governance rights in relation to land and resource development in their territories – through negotiation and agreement with the Province in accordance with the Declaration Act – rights which have been largely ignored by colonial governments for the last century and a half.”

An online EngageBC site will be open until March 31 to take written comments from the public on the proposed changes to the Land Act.

For comments and input:

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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