A First Nation leader said his people remain committed to the natural resources sector despite its current struggles after signing two agreements with the provincial government.
Chief Harley Chingee of McLeod Lake Indian Band located some 150 kilometres north of Prince George and south of Mackenzie said his people have been part of the forestry industry since the 1940s. A band company is also currently working on the Site C project, with one-third of crew members part of the McLeod Lake Indian Band, he added.
“Most of them are loggers and once Site C is done, they will go back to the forest industry or oil and gas … we are part of the forest industry and will be part of the forest industry generations from now because it’s our bread-and-butter,” Chingee said.
He made these comments after he joined Josie Osborne, minister of energy, mines and low carbon innovation, Murray Rankin, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation and Nathan Cullen, minister of water, land and resource stewardship, at the provincial legislature Wednesday (May 3) to mark the agreements.
The co-developed agreements spell out future land use and protection measures, as well as revenue-sharing. Chingee said initial efforts will focus on remediating timber stands within the band’s territory.
Wednesday’s ceremony continues efforts by the provincial government to redefine relations with First Nations in a resource-rich part of the province historically rife with economic, environmental and ultimately legal conflicts over those resources between First Nations and corporate interests, with government having historically sided with corporate interests.
Earlier this year, the provincial government signed a series of agreements with many but not all First Nations part of Treaty 8, starting with the Blueberry River First Nation in mid-January. The agreement follows a 2021 B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found the province had infringed upon that nation’s treaty rights because of the cumulative impacts of decades of industrial development.
Four other First Nations later followed Blueberry River First Nation in signing agreements with the province that still need to be fleshed out.
McLeod Lake Indian Band — which joined Treaty 8 in 2000, more than a century after its initial conclusion in 1899 — becomes the latest First Nation in the area to sign an agreement.
West Moberly First Nation and Prophet River First Nation currently remain outside.
Rankin, who helped negotiate the agreement that led McLeod Lake Indian Band to join Treaty 8, said the agreements mirror the agreements signed with Blueberry River First Nation and the other Treaty 8 nations in January.
“Making shared decisions on the land will address the cumulative impacts of industrial development and ensure all Nation members can meaningfully exercise their treaty rights while building a healthy and a prosperous future for everyone in the Northeast,” Rankin said.
Cullen added the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “compel governments to reconcile past wrongs” and he predicted that the agreement will benefit First Nations like McLeod Lake Indian Band as well the resource sector. “It creates not only the opportunities for restoration and opportunities for the First Nations themselves, it also creates a level of certainty that work in the natural resource sector.”