Premier John Horgan and Minister of Forests Katrine Conroy are on the record clearly stating their support for Aboriginal rights, title and sovereignty.
When the protests heated up in the forests on Southern Vancouver Island they agreed to the demands of the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht by deferring some logging of old-growth. In celebration of the decision, Premier Horgan said “the first step in protecting old growth must be respecting Indigenous Peoples’ land-management rights in their territories.”
That seems like a clear statement, unless of course it was all just to relieve pressure on a provincial government leveraging the situation for their own political purposes.
The first test of the BC NDP’s commitment to follow through on their words came only a few days later when Squamish Nation demanded the province defer cutting old-growth in their territory.
Don’t forget Squamish was asking this of the same Minister who just last week said, “True reconciliation means meaningful partnerships, listening to Indigenous Peoples and trusting their stewardship of their territories.”
When I offered her the opportunity in Question Period to follow her rhetoric with action Minister Conroy failed the test.
See for yourself.
Last Thursday, Squamish Nation clearly gave notice to the province that they want old-growth logging in their territory deferred. Squamish Nation spokesperson Khelsilum said: “The government is infringing on our rights by allowing these sites to be logged without our permission and without our consent.”
In his response last week to the Huu-ay-aht, Ditidaht and Pacheedaht request for deferrals, the Premier said: “The first step in protecting old growth must be respecting Indigenous Peoples’ land-management rights in their territories.” The minister of forests was also eager. She said: “True reconciliation means meaningful partnerships, listening to Indigenous Peoples and trusting their stewardship of their territories. This is a step in the right direction, but we know there’s more work to do.”
If the Premier and this minister are sincere in their promises to respect land management rights of Indigenous Peoples in their territories, we will see an immediate positive response to Squamish Nation’s assertion of their rights. Simple question to the minister of forests: has she accepted Squamish Nation’s request for deferrals on old-growth harvesting in their territory?
Hon. K. Conroy:
I thank the member for the question. Our government has received several requests from First Nations to implement deferrals. We’ve responded to all incoming requests and are committed to working with them. We have been working with the Squamish Nation since last fall and have deferred some areas in their territory, as we speak.
The member for Saanich North and the Islands on a supplemental.
I think Squamish Nation is being clear and I’ll be clear. They don’t want talks about protecting bits and pieces, small areas here and there. The nation is calling for an immediate two-year deferral in its entire territory. They’ve identified at least 20 cutblocks with old-growth logging planned for the next five years, a point the minister does not want to talk about.
The minister said recently: “The first step is putting Indigenous peoples at the centre of land management in their respective territories.” That’s a dramatic difference than the response that we just heard, which is just more rhetoric.
The Premier set a precedent in his riding. Finally, after more than 100 years, Indigenous nations have a pathway to stewarding and conserving their lands and can negotiate better economic terms than the pittance that this government has ever offered them. It’s an exciting time. For decades, this province has been operating a cut-and-run forestry policy. Now the decisions can be made by people who live on and care for the land.
My question, again, is to the minister. The minister and Premier have said they’re embracing a new era of Indigenous people making decisions in their territories. Our relatives in Squamish have made their decision. They’ve been clear about what that decision is to this government. Will the minister do the honourable thing and immediately grant a full set of deferrals, pausing old-growth harvesting in the Squamish Nation territory?
Hon. K. Conroy:
I thank the member.
Our government is committed to reconciliation and environmental protection, which we believe must go together. The days of making unilateral decisions without Indigenous Peoples are over. The member is quite accurate.
We’ve been clear that the first step to protecting old growth is putting Indigenous people at the centre of land management in their territories. That’s exactly why our government is working with the Pacheedaht, the Ditidaht and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations to defer old-growth logging in their territories — discussions that have been ongoing for a while.
The member has said that we are reaching out to nations. We have responded to nations that have asked for deferrals. We are having those important, confidential government-to-government discussions.
We will continue to do that with nations across the province who are looking to have more access to the land management in their traditional territory, to be able to have a say in how their land is managed. It’s critically important to this government. We are moving forward. We will have more deferrals to announce this summer.