RDOS BOARD CHAIR COMMITS TO SIGNING HISTORIC PROTOCOL AGREEMENT WITH FIRST NATION BANDS WITHIN 60 DAYS
Posted on 21 March 2013 by Keith Lacey
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) has committed to signing a protocol agreement within the next 60 days with several First Nations bands across the South Okanagan.
Dan Ashton, chair of the RDOS board, made the commitment following a Community to Community forum held last Thursday at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Spa and Resort in Osoyoos.
Local First Nations had agreed to a similar deal in principle more than four years ago, but “politics entered into the equation” and the RDOS walked away from negotiations, said Ashton.
That won’t happen again and that’s why a strict 60-day time line has been established to sign a new protocol agreement, he said.
The new protocol will see the RDOS and three First Nations – the Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band and Lower Similkameen Indian Band – reach an agreement that will see the parties commit to, among other things, a shared stewardship of regional resources for the benefit of future generations and building a trusting relationship to develop future agreements on social, economic and environmental goals, while establishing a working relationship that respects the governance of each organization, said Ashton.
“I was on the board of the RDOS when the original protocol agreement was initially developed,” said Ashton, at a press conference with OIB Chief Clarence Louie and Penticton Indian Band Chief Jonathan Kruger. “The intentions of all parties were honourable back then, but we still have some issues to resolve. It hasn’t stopped us from working together over that period, but the protocol will take us to the next level.”
What was meant to be an eight or nine-hour forum discussing numerous issues relating to municipal and First Nations governance and how to integrate the diverse interests of residents in the South Okanagan and Similkameen valleys ended up being almost entirely devoted to formalizing the protocol agreement.
“I would say 75 per cent of the day was directed towards the protocol agreement,” said Kruger.
Besides having representation from several First Nation bands and several members of the RDOS board, there were municipal officials from Keremeos, Princeton, Summerland and Oliver at the forum.
Having an official and legally binding protocol agreement will allow First Nations and non-native leaders to work together in a spirit of trust, harmony and goodwill on key social, economic and environmental goals that benefit all parties, said Kruger.
“There are great things we can do together with this protocol in place,” he said.
Louie, who is never shy to speak exactly what’s on his mind, said he’s pleased the RDOS has committed to signing the protocol agreement, but said there are still serious issues, especially pertaining to land ownership, that will have to be resolved outside of this agreement.
“Everyone tries to pretend the water is calm, but the water is not calm,” he said. “There have always been outstanding issues between native and non-native people. The power and control of land is at the forefront of it. We have to get back and talk about these things.”
First Nation leaders are willing to assist municipalities and work with municipal leaders across the South Okanagan, but if they give something up they want something in return, which is going to continue to be a demand for more reserve land, said Louie.
“Our position is we want extra reserve land … we’re going to go after more reserve land,” he said. “I know non-native people won’t support the idea of additional reserve land being created and I know this will be an issue across the South Okanagan.”
The reality is municipalities across this region and many parts of B.C. have slowly, but surely taken over ownership of land that rightfully belongs to First Nations people, said Louie.
If First Nation leaders enter into social and economic agreements that benefit non-native people, the price they will continue to ask in return is for more reserve land, he said.
Far too many Canadians continue to believe “the myth” that Canada was founded by English and French settlers during the 1800s, when, in fact, First Nation people had settled in the South Okanagan and many parts of Canada hundreds of years before that, said Louie.
When someone at the forum suggested First Nations leaders must “not dwell on the past” it upset him because the only way successful long-term progress between native and non-native communities will be accomplished is acknowledging First Nation people lived in harmony long before European settlers arrived, he said.
“We can’t move forward without reflecting on the past,” he said. “The English and French were not the first people of Canada. That’s a myth. If you think French people get emotional when they talk about protecting their culture and land …there is 10 times more emotion and feelings First Nation people have, especially when they know what is rightfully reserve land and what the government has taken away from us.”
Louie said he’s more than willing to adhere to the spirit of this new protocol as long as all parties realize the goal is to ensure everyone benefits.
Kruger said having the RDOS committed to agreeing to and signing this protocol “is a big huge step in the right direction” and he’s confident it will lead to an even stronger working relationship between First Nation and municipal leaders across the South Okanagan.
In 1997, the Union of British Columbia municipalities and the First Nations Summit jointly organized the first province-wide Community to Community Forum, which brought together First Nation and local governments from across the province to discuss common goals and opportunities for joint action.
The success of the event and open exchange of concerns, ideas and construction opinions led a consensus that regional forums be held on a regular basis. A complete copy of the proposed protocol agreement can be accessed online at www.rdos.ca.