GO TO ANY SETTLER TOWN or city in B.C., and there will be a First Nations community close by. The same can be said within the Thompson Nicola Regional District.
In Kamloops, Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc is just over the bridge. Neskonlith Indian Band and Adams Lake Indian Band are immediately adjacent to Chase. Skeetchestn Indian Band is just down the road from Savona. Across all of the TNRD are First Nations communities.
But if you attended a Thompson Nicola Regional District board meeting, it would be hard to know there are First Nations communities in the region. First Nations representatives are absent from the board and committees of the TNRD. Despite facing many of the same problems such as water, land use and solid waste, First Nation voices are absent.
Historically, that’s been the way things have been. But times are changing. Maybe not in the TNRD, but with other regional districts in B.C.
This week, the Capital Regional District (CRD) announced that its standing committees would now include representation from elected members of local First Nations. The CRD encompasses thirteen municipalities, such as Victoria, Saanich and Sooke, and three unincorporated areas, such as Salt Spring Island.
The CRD joins a growing list of B.C. regional districts who have First Nations at committee or board tables.
For example, the Tsawwassen First Nation is a board member of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). The Sechelt Indian Government District (SIDG) participates as a full member on the Sunshine Coast Regional District. The Nisga’a First Nation falls within a regional district electoral area (EA) of the Kitimat Stikine Regional District and all residents (First Nation and non-First Nation) vote for the EA Director. Four Treaty First Nations sit as members of the Regional District of Alberni-Clayoquot.
The way each of the First Nations representatives joined standing committees and or regional district boards was different. Some were added because of treaty negotiations. Others were added by the will of the board.
No matter how First Nations representation was added to a regional district, underpinning it is a desire to reconcile, and the valuing of First Nations voices in regional decision making.
As we take more and more steps towards reconciliation between First Nations and non-First First Nations, regional districts have an important role to play.
There are many issues that affect both First Nations and non-First Nations communities. More and more, B.C. regional districts are seeing the value of having First Nation voices at the table.
It’s time the Thompson Nicola Regional District has First Nation voices at its table too. There are so many issues, from land use, to water, to solid waste which affect everyone in the region. Without First Nations at the table, solutions are incomplete, and valuable inputs are lost.
For too long, First Nations voices have been absent. In the spirit of reconciliation, it’s time for the TNRD to invite the region’s First Nations to the table.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.