While confusion over the Tahltan Band’s proposed land code seems to be the main reason members voted it down last month, concerns over how money will be spent, and who holds power over the lands also factored in.
The split 208-201 vote shows how divided the Tahltan were on the issue, and although they had enough voters to meet the threshold of 370 votes in favour, a thin majority voted it down.
The land code would have given the band full control of their reserve lands, but some who opposed it said there was lack of clarity of what exactly was being enacted.
Band members were told they could not reverse the code after ratifying it, leaving some concluding the risk wasn’t worth it.
Drafted in early-2017, the Tahltan Band Land Code was voted down in March, and would have affected the band’s control over their 13 reserve lands, not the whole of their territory, near Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek.
Most members said the land code sounded good, including Lillian Campbell and Gayleen Day, but both of whom voted against it.
Day said one concern was that it would have given the chief and council too much power.
Section 6.1 of the rejected land code says that council will make laws for development and conservation, including authorizing subdivisions, pipelines, and other development. It can also make laws regulating hunting and fishing and “any related matter as deemed necessary by the council.”
“This type of agreement would give the chief too much power over our rez lands,” said Day, adding that she didn’t want band council leasing it to foreign investors.
“There’s fishing areas and hot springs… and a few sacred reserves, and this would allow them to lease them out, or start a tourism business, not realizing how sacred those places may be,” said Day. “It would cause more damage than good for us Tahltans.”
Day was also concerned about the money. When a First Nation passes a land code, it takes over administration of the land and gets annual funding from the federal government for maintenance and law enforcement.
A total $204,536 was promised for 2017-2018 if the land code passed, in addition to the $75,000 already given to the band to develop the code and hold the vote.
“[Band council] did not have any specific ways of utilizing that money,” said Day.
But Tahltan band chief Rick Mclean said the reason is the two-step process of the land code.
“The land code was a framework… there were no laws done,” he said, adding that if the land code had passed, there would have been another process to develop the laws.
“All that work would have been the next step,” he said. “And then there would be another ratification to adopt the laws.”
Mclean says he believes the land code would have been a positive step forward.
“It would have given us control of our reserve lands and the ability to develop laws on those lands,” he said, adding that they’d also be able to enforce laws.
“Let’s say for example that we have somebody on the reserve that we want removed. We can make a law to enforce that,” he said. “So something like protecting our reserves from pedophiles and drug dealers, (right now) we are still stuck with B.C. laws that are unenforceable.”
Aside from that, Mclean says the land code would have allowed them to prepare for future development and allow infrastructure to come in more easily.
“Now we have to go though the INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) process of registering developmental lands, and go through the 1-2 year process to get property to the development stage,” said Mclean.
“(But) it’s always best to get ready and be prepared for stuff like that,” he said. “Rather than being reactive, trying to be proactive.”
Developers come at economic high times, he said, and if processes are too slow, opportunities will be missed.
Mclean also argued the land code would have given the band the ability to mitigate environmental impacts on the land.
“It will be up to the new chief and council whether they want to pursue it [land code] again,” he said.
“I’m disappointed, but we learned a lot from the engagement process that we are trying to develop.”
Similar engagement processes will be used down the road, Mclean said, so “this was a good step in getting membership involved and informed.”