The Peace River Regional District has deferred discussion about a treaty land sharing program at their June 8 board meeting, opting to move to a larger venue to accommodate the public. A date has yet to be set.
The deferral comes after an overwhelming number of residents attended the meeting, enough to break the fire code for occupants at the Pomeroy hotel in Fort St. John, where delegations from the Landry and Nor’Pioneer Women’s Institutes were scheduled to appear.
Both institutes have penned letters noting opposition from farmers and landowners to a PRRD letter of support for treaty land sharing.
Concerns include no consultation prior to the letter of support, legality and liability of a land sharing program, opting out of any program, effect to local food producers, impact to fee simple property definitions and future subdivision approvals.
Dale Bumstead from SCION Strategies Ltd. and Edward Stanford with Urban Systems proposed the land sharing program back in January to the PRRD, and were in attendance today to answer questions from the board.
Any program would be entirely voluntary, says Bumstead, landowners can choose to participate if they like, noting local businesses, organizations, and individuals have expressed interest to him in connecting with their Treaty 8 neighbours over the past eight to nine months.
“I feel horrible about some of the information that’s been shared about the insinuations I guess, that we’ve developed a model that’s in some way moving towards allowing unauthorized, unapproved access to private land,” said Bumstead. “I have never ever suggested that, I have never said that, never insinuated that.”
Area C Director Brad Sperling wants to ensure the public can make an informed decision.
“As you develop and move forward with this voluntary program, do you plan on having public consultation periods or are you planning on putting out literature on this to inform the public?” asked Sperling.
Bumstead said their first step is to gather support from local organizations and individuals before moving ahead, and went to the PRRD first to make the idea publicly known.
“That’s the process, we engage and start to develop that. Purely at this point the idea and concept of it, is nothing more than that. And so, we can’t say whether it’s even going to proceed or not,” said Bumstead.
“That’s the main concern, putting this out to the public so that they can respond and have the information that they need - whether they wish to or not, it’s the private land owner’s decision,” said Sperling.
Residents were tense at the meeting, shouting and cheering their opposition, with one man interrupting to voice his concerns using one of the PRRD directors’ microphones.
“He seems to have conversations with a lot of these different groups, but you ever have a conversation with the taxpayers and the farmers from Fort St. John? Where was that conversation?” said the man of Bumstead.
Area B Director Jordan Kealy reminded the crowd to remain civil and thanked all for attending.
“I’d like to put forth a motion that on our letter we do a cease and desist until this can actually be properly consulted with the public,” said Kealy, which was met with a cheer by the crowd.
Board Chair Leonard Hiebert and PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen both pointed out that motions can’t be made during the committee of the whole.
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen asked about potential liability to landowners and those invited on their land.
Bumstead reiterated that the program is voluntary and a model for Northeast BC has yet to be created - it exists only in concept, he’s unable to speak to liability or structure.
“It was, and is, a purely voluntary process. Today, I think there’s maybe 16,000 hectares in total of landowners that are participating,” said Bumstead of Saskatchewan, where the land sharing network concept was developed with Treaty 4 and 6 due to limited crown land availability .
The land access could be used for ceremonial or cultural purposes, Bumstead added, in addition to gathering plants, medicines, and hunting.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Have a story idea or opinion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org