Peace Region MLAs Pat Pimm and Mike Bernier have created a committee to make sure backcountry users aren't cut off from their favourite hunting, fishing and sledding grounds when future land deals with First Nations go through.
Pimm, MLA for Peace River North, announced June 7 that he and Bernier are forming a committee for stakeholders to look at, comment on, and make recommendations on the land under consideration–roughly 30 parcels throughout the northeast.
“The Government of British Columbia is continuing to work with First Nations across the province to identify lands through the treaty process or other potential avenues to try to foster long-term reconciliation and certainty on the land base,” Pimm said in a statement.
“In the northeastern part of British Columbia, we also have Site C that is presently under construction and could also see some lands being transferred to First Nations as an accommodation result for some of their traditional territory.”
The issue came to light earlier this year when the North Peace Rod and Gun club raised concerns about potential land transfers to the Blueberry River First Nation in the Muskwa-Kechika wilderness area, which they feared could privatize access to popular backcountry destinations.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett later told the Alaska Highway News that there were "legitimate criticisms" of the way government informed citizens about the transfer of Crown lands to First Nations impacted by Site C. However, he said Canada's constitution requires negotiations between government and aboriginal groups be "nation to nation," meaning not subject to public consultation.
The committee will bring together regional provincial ministry managers, former provincial ministry managers, regional residents including BC Wildlife Federation representatives, local trappers associations, local guide and outfitter representatives, local grain growers and others.
“We want to make sure ... that stakeholder interests are going to be looked after, we want to make sure that trails are still going to be accessible to folks, we want to make sure that the backcountry roads are still going to be accessible,” Pimm told the Alaska Highway News.
“If some of these deals are going to be made, and we think that’s ... going to happen, so we just want to make sure ... that there’s some transparency around it,” he said.
Although First Nations currently aren’t part of the committee, its membership is not yet complete and they are welcome to join.
“We have that door wide open, we would love to have the First Nations be part of our committee and come to our meetings and attend our meetings, that’s something the committee has been very adamant about,” Pimm said.
Pimm estimates the committee will number between 30 and 35 people. The number is so large, he said, because the North Peace and South Peace areas have “very similar” issues.
“We just thought, if we bring the groups together from North and South Peace all into one area, we’ll certainly be able to get the same message and look after everybody’s interests at the same time.”
Municipalities are not part of the committee, largely because local governments already have avenues have their voices heard, but stakeholders do not.
The meetings will be closed to the public, but updates will be provided regularly on Pimm’s MLA website, as well as through social media and press releases, Pimm said.
“The people right on the ground weren’t having that opportunity, that was the purpose of this committee being put together,” Pimm said.