The Peace River Regional District is denouncing alleged racism toward local First Nations over plans to protect endangered mountain caribou in the area.
In a letter released late Friday, May 16, board chair Brad Sperling wrote to the chiefs of West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations near Chetwynd, calling for an opportunity to stand with them in a "united front" towards hateful attitudes and comments.
"These comments are inappropriate and dangerous. Hate speech is not condoned by the Peace River Regional District in any way as we strive towards our vision of a strong, diverse, and sustainable region that promotes livable and safe communities for all," Sperling wrote.
"Stressful situations can tear communities apart, however, can also serve to reinforce relationships as we focus on strengthening our bonds and moving forward together."
The letter comes in response to a joint letter from West Moberly Chief Roland Willson and Saulteau Chief Ken Cameron expressing concerns that misinformation and hostility continues to swirl over their draft agreement with the provincial and federal governments to recover herds in the South Peace.
The two bands have been in closed door negotiations with senior levels of government to limit industrial and backcountry access in areas around Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge and finance recovery activities to save half a dozen endangered herds. The negotiations have charged ahead despite repeated calls by local governments, MLAs, and industry over the last year to be included in the discussions.
The chiefs say indigenous peoples have been subjected to "degrading slurs" and "outrageous attacks on our integrity and our dignity, defamatory accusations of corruption, and even threats of armed violence."
"Our people, including our most vulnerable women, children and elders, have been personally humiliated, dehumanized and demeaned, online, in schools, shops, libraries, and community centres," the chiefs write.
"We understand that some misguided people think that the way to achieve a kind of political power is by telling lies, creating fear, and directing hate and anger towards innocent people. There are a number of examples of this in history. We just didn’t expect to experience it in the 21st century, in Canada, in the Peace Region, over the recovery of endangered caribou."
In their letter, the chiefs pushed the regional district to "repair the damage" and refute misinformation about the plans.
The chiefs said they understood the board would release a public statement about the issue back in April, when Premier John Horgan flew up to Dawson Creek to announce an extension on public consultations, and appoint Blair Lekstrom as his special liaison.
"It has been more than three weeks and the racist attacks on us continue," the chiefs wrote.
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