B.C. First Nations’ Leaders Call for a Reset on Provincial Government’s Forestry Policies

The Ashcroft Indian Band has been pressing the B.C. government to overhaul the province’s forestry policies for over two years, saying that the current system fails to reflect the government’s commitment to reconcile with the Indigenous peoples or its legal obligations to them.

The Ashcroft band is small, with a registered population of 346 people, most of them living off-reserve. The Ashcroft band is part of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, a group of more than a dozen bands whose traditional territory spans the Fraser Canyon and the Southern Interior of B.C. and extends into the United States.

The Ashcroft band is based in the arid, rolling hills of B.C.’s Southern Interior, and it’s seeking more say over forestry in its traditional territory and a bigger share of the proceeds. The effort is part of a province-wide push by First Nations to gain more influence over an industry that has shaped settlement and trade in B.C. for more than a century and remains a significant economic force.

According to the provincial government, the forestry sector accounted for about 43,000 jobs and about $11.5 billion in commodity exports in 2020 — about 29 per cent of B.C.’s total commodity exports that year. The sector contributed $5.6 billion to provincial GDP.

Ms. Jodene Blain, the Ashcroft Indian Band’s administrator, has been sending letters on behalf of the band to government officials with a growing sense of frustration. “We are completely ignored,” Ms. Blain said. “We’ve had meetings and letters, but it’s gone nowhere.”

The First Nations Forestry Council (FNFC), an advocacy group focused on forest policy, has said the recent changes are at odds with reconciliation commitments and with B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. The group has called for a “reset.”

“The province is making a giant misstep,” FNFC executive director Charlene Higgins said. “We could be doing this in such a better way — collaboratively.”

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B.C. First Nations push for revamp of province’s forestry policies