More than 20 years of work culminated in a historic signing on Nov. 21.
Representatives of the Shuswap Band, Town of Golden and Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area A Rural Golden met at the Shuswap Band office near Invermere to sign a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding a possible community forest.
Through the signing, the three local governments reaffirmed their desire to come together and better understand one another while working towards the acquisition of the ‘Kenpesq’t Community Forest’ within the Golden Timber Supply Area, says professional forester and longtime volunteer Denise English.
The ceremony hosted by the Shuswap Band opened with a prayer and a Shuswap Band Drumming Ceremony.
“Everyone left the ceremony, feeling positive and very thankful for the opportunity to share with one another,” says English.
Newly appointed Shuswap Band Salmon Chief and Coun. Mark Thomas calls the memorandum monumental.
He says this partnership between Indigenous people and municipal government is a first.
“We have been kept separate due to our differences in culture and economics,” he says, noting the new collaboration is taking band members out of their comfort zone. ”We are entering a realm that isn’t always an easy road and anytime you’re engaging with a partner you don’t know, it is scary.”
But, Thomas says after thorough assessment, the band is satisfied that from Shuswap Band perspective, the partnership is worth the investment in time, building relationships and understanding one another’s economic values.
“I think it’s important to walk a mile as the adage goes, and this will give us a platform to do that,” he says.
“From our perspective, it’s an assertion of our rights in our traditional territory that has not been a focus historically, but we feel very strongly about our responsibilities within our traditional territory.”
The Shuswap Band has one of the largest caretaker areas of any Indigenous community in B.C. and Thomas maintains that respect, transparency, cooperation and mutual benefit until now, have not been shared themes
“Our economic drive will be coming off of resources in our caretaker area, and not from the postage stamp we call a reserve,” he says, noting the community forest initiative will provide for mutual growth and benefits from the land base. “Failures and successes will be shared and the learning will provide the experience needed to be successful into our common future.”
Golden Mayor Ron Oszust agrees and called the signing event a very special moment.
“We’ve been working on this for several months and to now be able to move forward is great news,” he says, noting the celebration in Invermere was about business but was also social and provided further opportunities to build relationships. “We went through a really interesting project building those relationships and coming together.”
Area A Rural Golden director Karen Cathcart says the group has been moving forward in the way a former minister of forests advised.
“We were told to keep moving and make sure we have an Indigenous partner,” she says, noting she has learned a lot by sitting at the table with woodlot owners and foresters, including Pacific Wood Tech, and that local government’s role is to advocate and educate people about how to manage our forests and forestry processes. ”First Nations do that and will teach and support us.”
English meanwhile, says she and other volunteers of the Golden and Area A Community Forestry Team have been working on the project for more than 20 years.
“There has been a lot of volunteer time for a lot of people and I’m excited about it moving forward,” she says, grateful to the Columbia Basin Trust for providing funds toward the initiative.
As important as it is, the MOU is just one step in the right direction. The next move hinges on an invitation from the Ministry of Forests with an offer to engage in a community forest agreement (CFA).
A CFA is an area-based forest licence managed by a local government, community group, First Nation or combination of local governments, First Nations and community groups, for the benefit of the entire community.
“We are hoping for an invitation so we can further explore what the partnership means to all of us and our expectations on the land base,” says English, who believes that communities should benefit from what their land base has to offer. “I feel very strongly that the best decisions about what takes place are those that the community makes themselves.”
English says that, in general, people who live on the land have an investment in it an that it is not always about money, but rather about how the land is used in a variety of ways such as hunting, fishing and by bike and ATV enthusiasts.
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.