Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako and First Nations

If you’re ever bored in Burns Lake, I highly encourage you to watch a Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) board meeting.

They happened twice a month on Thursday morning and they never fail to entertain whoever is there.

I recently watched the directors debate whether they should move forward with a relationship protocol with First Nations intended to improve relations between First Nations and local governments.

Some of the directors had an issue with the proposed protocol because it acknowledged a simple fact – that the regional district sits on unceded First Nations territory.

You don’t have to be an expert on B.C. history or First Nations issues to know that this is true. In fact, I knew this even before I moved to B.C.

Throughout most of Canada, the Crown entered into treaties whereby aboriginal communities gave up their claim to land in exchange for reservations and other promises, but, with minor exceptions, this did not happen in B.C. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada granted a declaration of aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, one of hundreds of aboriginal groups in B.C. that had unresolved land claims.

So whether or not the RDBN board acknowledges that the regional district sits on unceded First Nations territory, I doubt that it would make much a difference. A quick Google search could answer that question.

But what struck me the most during that debate was not the resistance to sign this forward-looking document, it was that some of the directors were unwilling to understand B.C’s history, and one of them was simply denying the facts.

“How do I know what took place 200 years ago?” said Jerry Peterson, Director of Electoral Area F (Vanderhoof rural). “I don’t know, so to make that statement saying that I acknowledge it, I don’t acknowledge it because I don’t know.”

After 150 years of colonization, you’d think that all Canadians would have moved beyond blatant ignorance. But these types of comments go to show why a relationship protocol is needed in the first place.

I almost felt like standing up and applauding when Mark Fisher, Director of Electoral Area A (Smithers rural), encouraged directors who were unsure about the history of First Nations in B.C. or relevant Supreme Court of Canada decisions to “find a dictionary.”

Burns Lake councillor John Illes, who represents the Village of Burns Lake at the RDBN board, wisely warned the directors that the refusal to acknowledge that the RDBN sits on unceded First Nations territory would harm the regional district’s relationship with First Nations.

But that wasn’t enough to convince the board, who carried a motion for staff to reword the protocol and bring it back for a future discussion. I’m hoping the next discussion will at least be better informed.