Working together with First Nations

Once elected, government leaders quickly learn that there is always more to most issues than what first meets the eye.

It is often said that there are two sides to an issue and from my relatively brief experience as a Member of Parliament and previously as a city councillor, nowhere is this more true than in government.

Once elected to public office, government leaders quickly learn firsthand that there is always more to most issues than what first meets the eye.

There is also a disconnection that often exists between taxpayers and government at all levels that frequently is the result of a lack of information and at times poor communication.

Getting information to citizens is critically important, and likewise as Members of Parliament we also have an obligation to be informed and to learn as much as we can on issues of importance.

Often I am surprised at how a perspective may change given the introduction of new information and this is why I make every effort to meet with and have conversations with as many citizens as I can in order to gain more input and learn about the many unique events occurring here in Okanagan-Coquihalla.

There are also some issues I have encountered where the amount of general public knowledge on a subject may be somewhat limited. One area I have noted that there is often some public misunderstanding pertains to First Nations.

Most citizens are aware that here in Okanagan-Coquihalla we have many different First Nation communities.

It is also frequently observed that there are varying levels of prosperity and economic success that are frequently attributed to the leadership of a particular band and council.

While there is no question that leadership plays a very important role in every community here in our region, there are some other unique factors within First Nations communities that many in the public are unaware of.

While it is commonly assumed that all band lands are managed collectively under the guidance of the chief, council and band administration, it is important to recognize that there are also lands that may be allocated to an individual member or family of the First Nation in question.

“Locatee lands” as they are commonly referred to, in many respects are not unlike private lands from the perspective of a First Nation as the “locatee” has the ability to independently make decisions with respect to that land that may or may not be with the consent nor to the benefit of the local chief and council.

It is not uncommon in Okanagan-Coquihalla for a locatee to lease locatee lands to private sector activities that may sometimes be controversial however it should also be recognized that these types of agreements are not necessarily authorized by the band and council.

The status of band lands versus locatee lands were generally established many decades ago when reserve boundaries were first defined and many historical considerations were used as part of the criteria.

Every band, from a geographical perspective, will have different and variable relationships between the size and location of locatee lands versus band lands.

This is an important fact to be aware of as some bands will have complete control of their most strategically valuable lands whereas in other cases similar advantaged lands may be under the control of an individual locatee or after they pass on, it is inherited by a family member or members.

From the perspective of a chief and council it can be much more difficult to implement projects and engage in development activities if prime band lands are access challenged or are competing with locatee lands that may enjoy the benefits of easier access and an enhanced ability to service.

Fortunately for those bands who engage in taxation, First Nation taxation does apply to improvements on locatee lands as well as band lands so a greater tax base can be developed over time.

We are fortunate here in the Okanagan to have some very progressive First Nations communities with forward thinking leadership that are currently pursuing some ambitious projects that will benefit our region.

While this is a somewhat simplistic overview of some of the challenges facing First Nations land use I am hopeful that this information can provide more context of the unique challenges that may face a particular band more so then others.

I value my strong working relationship with many of our Okanagan First Nations and look forward to more success in moving important projects forward for our region.

Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla and can be reached at dan.albas@parl.gc.ca

 

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