Penticton Indian Band Chief Chad Eneas says a new deal signed with a forestry company is paving a new path for reconciliation.
PIB Chief Chad Eneas, with council at his side, signed a memorandum of understanding with Interfor Wednesday afternoon at the band administration offices. According to a summary of the MOU, Interfor and PIB are entering into “a respectful and ongoing relationship regarding the stewardship of the land and resources in the territory.”
The agreement sets out terms of Interfor doing forestry in the PIB territory, B.C.’s largest land-based reserve at over 46,000 acres, including the “recognition of culture values and proactive involvement of the PIB in harvesting plans.” The deal also sets out potential for partnerships between the corporation and the band.
In a news conference Wednesday, signatories focused largely on the provisions for proactive involvement and respect of cultural values in the MOU, which they felt was monumental.
Eneas invoked the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which sets out, among other things, rights of Indigenous Peoples That includes a much-debated clause that calls for “free, prior and informed consent” when developing resources on Indigenous land.
“It 100 per cent application of that (UNDRIP). It’s not just talking about principles. It’s actually doing the work that needs to be done for true reconciliation to happen,” Eneas said. “It just presents the opportunity for us to save the future.”
While Canada has signed onto UNDRIP, almost a decade after it was introduced, Indigenous communities have taken aim at provincial and federal governments for what they see as lacklustre efforts to incorporate the declaration into policy. Critics of UNDRIP say the consent clause could give every Indigenous community “veto” powers on projects.
But Eneas said Wednesday the deal shows that by working with Indigenous communities like PIB, a favourable agreement can be achieved for both sides.
“I think Interfor’s displaying leadership there, and it should be expressed to the provincial government that it is possible to work with us in an effective way that does respect our title rights and our values,” Eneas said, adding that court decisions have bolstered Indigenous title rights.
“All of the recent court cases have expressed that you can’t do it the way you used to. Title exists.”
Eneas said he had seen attempts at making deals like the MOU signed with Interfor within the territory, but hadn’t seen anything come to fruition. But Coun. Inez Pierre said she hopes the deal will pave the way for more similar deals in the future.
“Just understanding that and building that together, rather than separately, is what’s important. To establish our relationship and to establish how that would be without the common industry,” she said.
Interfor chief forester Richard Slaco told the room the deal will mean “a lot more communication” between PIB and Interfor when it works in PIB territory.
“Much more upfront, and the comment I made earlier about listening. Understanding the cultural interests and where the are, and how we can do a much better job of planning for that,” Slaco said.
“This is not business as usual. This is the new business.”
Council voted unanimously in favour of signing the deal, which Eneas said was a strong moment for the band.
“Our collective voice is strongest when we have consensus around the table. It’s different than mainstream politics. We’re not so much debating each other and trying to prove who’s right and who’s wrong,” Eneas said.
For Coun. kłxwstilkən, part of the reason for that unanimity is because of the respect for the land that would come with the deal.
“We’ve always said that we’re not against the forest industry. We don’t want to stop the logging. It’s the practices that they’re currently using,” he said.
“We want the forest industry to really prosper and make a profit so they can turn around and invest more money back into reclamation, into making our land healthy again, the way it was before there was hundreds of years of ecosystem disturbance.”