Landowners around Babine Lake are questioning the Provincial Government’s deal with Lake Babine Nation to transfer some crown lands in the region to the First Nation and are concerned the deal will make their properties land locked.
The Communications Director for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations & Reconciliation Sarah Plank said the Province, Lake Babine Nation and the federal government have been in talks for several years, working together to reach a long-term reconciliation agreement, known as the Lake Babine Nation Foundation Agreement.
“The draft Foundation Agreement sets out a step-by-step pathway to support the people of Lake Babine Nation by providing tools and resources that advance reconciliation and support the Nation toward becoming self-governing,” she added.
Plank said they are now in the early stages of discussions on the potential transfer of some Crown lands to Lake Babine Nation, to support economic development for the Nation and the region. “The initial parcels of land identified for potential transfer have not been finalized, and are subject to adjustment as we work through consultations with stakeholders, including local property owners and tenure-holders,” she said.
In January, registered property owners on Babine Lake received a letter from the Provincial Government requesting an open house to discuss the potential land transfer.
A meeting was held at the Smithers Legion earlier this month and more than 170 people showed up to hear about the plans.
“It is critically important to engage with stakeholders – including local governments, property owners, tenure- and permit-holders and local business and industry – on matters that may directly affect their interests, including treaties or other agreements the Province may be discussing with First Nations and Indigenous governments. This process helps to identify potential impacts and concerns, which the Province will work to address before any agreement is finalized,” Plank added. “Better understanding stakeholder interests helps us create better agreements, support local relationship-building and foster stronger partnerships with First Nations. Reconciliation and agreement-making are most successful when stakeholders and key government partners can understand and identify with the goals and intentions of the negotiations.”
Blake Pierce lives in Five Mile, a small community along the lake, and is worried about his access to recreate on the crown land around his home.
“The nearest place I could go to crown land is 12 kms from here. I’d have to get into my truck and drive 12 kms down the road so I could step off the road and walk my dog,” he said.
Pierce said he is also concerned about the politics of the proposed land deal and added he has a strong sense of being on the outside looking in.
“Are we going to be pawns in political BS so the NDP can placate another native band. Or are our rights going to be equally observed? We are out in left field. These are the people that have lived out here for a while. There are about five couples out here and there are some people that are coming out here and it is becoming a community.”
Pierce hopes the dialogue with land owners continues.
“We are interested in to see how much involvement we get in this engagement process. They have a seat at the table, the government has a seat at the table. The government should be representing our interests. So are they? Let’s hope they are. I think the Chief Negotiator will do a good job. I believe that and I want to believe that. My whole life is on the line. Our equity position is here. I’m 66 and this is a very active lifestyle so maybe in ten years we will want to sell. So from a financial stand point, we are terrified.”
Dave Hooper also lives in the area said that the land transfer deal doesn’t necessarily mean property values will plunge.
“If we work cooperatively [Lake Babine Nation] can bring the values up. There is no reason that it has to be a negative thing. They brought the power up there, they brought the phone and internet up to Smithers Landing. Not us. We went from generators to plugging in. There are ways to work together and be better off, not worse off.”
But he said the most frustrating part of this process is the lack of communication.
“Lake Babine Nation need the opportunity to move forward and be self-sustaining but not if it is going to cause friction. When it hurts one, it hurts both. You lose that friendship. There is no need for that.”
Plank said talks with residents and cabin owners will continue.
“Engagement with stakeholders and the public has already begun and will include open houses, information sessions, one-on-one meetings, and a web page to ensure information is accessible. This process will continue to evolve as negotiations progress and is expected to take place throughout 2020 and 2021.”