The Williams Lake Indian Band is one of 18 First Nations that will be opting out of the land-related sections of the Indian Act.
While the band will continue to receive federal transfer funds, the band will have full jurisdiction on its reserve lands under the First Nations Lands Management Initiative (FNLMI).
“Now, for the purpose of doing things related to leases of land, the Government of Canada is the ultimate decision-making authority,” says Kirk Dressler, WLIB economic development officer. “They will be removed from that equation.”
Normally if the band wanted to lease of parcel of land, like it presently does to Pioneer Log Homes, it would have to go through a designation which, in a practical sense, always requires at least two referenda, which can take several years, Dressler says.
Then once the designation is complete, then the lease has to go through environmental assessments and a legal review by the department of justice, a process that takes an additional six months at the least.
“By the time you’ve done all that, an opportunity that’s come your way is long since come and gone because the federal bureaucracy moves way to slowly to accommodate the pace of business,” he says.
Moving toward the First Nations Lands Management Initiative (FNLMI) will give WLIB control. Decision-making authority will reside at the band level as well as law-making authority in relation to lands.
It’s a significant change, he suggests.
Before signing the implementation agreement, WLIB will have to go through a process to develop a land code that will contain core laws with respect to land management.
It has to be a community driven process where the community gives input, ratifies and approves the land code.
Dressler thinks it will take a couple of years before the agreement will be in place.
Eighty First Nations were on the waiting list to be added to the initiative, but Dressler says they were assessed on their capacity and where they are at in terms of economic development.
“The fact that we were one of the 18 of the 80 suggests that we’re being recognized, that we’re being active with economic development, that we have a land-use plan and Highway 97 corridor development plan in place.
“We have a good crew here with some extensive and professional experience to ensure that our implementation is smooth,” Dressler says, adding he worked with the Westbank First Nation in Kelowna for a decade.
In addition to leasing land to Pioneer Log Homes, WLIB has a tire shop, golf course, gas station and campground operating in the Sugar Cane area.
There is an additional 300 acres slated for development, as well as land by Likely and Horsefly roads and a small portion close to Scout Island on Mackenzie Avenue.
“Economics is always a consideration. Things are still slow in the Cariboo, but there’s a lot of bubbling in terms of mining activity and I think we’re going to come out of this and there’s going to be another boom in the Cariboo,” Dressler says.
WLIB Chief Ann Louie sat the band is excited about the prospect of being added to the initiative.
“We are ready for greater autonomy and assuming control over the management of our lands, resources and environment is a critical step forward,” Louie says. “We are certain that participating in the initiative will increase efficiency, inspire investor confidence, and open doors to greater economic opportunity for our people.”
According to a press release from the band, many of the operational FNLMI First Nations reported a 40 per cent increase in new business overall by band members and a 45 per cent increase into different types of businesses, including supplier and spin-off businesses. These First Nations attracted approximately $53 million in internal investment and close to $100 million in external investment.