Saturday, June 5, 2010

First Nation's Land Claims and BC's Forests

We acknowledge that First Nation's people have been disadvantaged in Canadian Society. Are we doing enough to rectify the situation? A First Nation's man has a life expectancy 7.4 years less than the average Canadian male. Suicide rates are twice that of the average and housing, services, employment opportunities and conditions in many First Nation's communities need improvement.

Does the Treaty and Land Claims effort redress the situation? The effort has dragged on for many years with limited resolution and benefit except perhaps to lawyers and other big feeders in the game. The game is a European game based on land ownership law that has its roots in Roman law. The word colonial comes from a Roman class of conquered people that were treated as slaves or serfs. Given the lack of progress the whole process looks like a run around.

Public forests are being used as the currency to redress past abuses. This approach has merit if it results in improvement in employment and living conditions in First Nations communities. It will also require careful provision of some mechanisms to ensure that the forests will be managed to sustain their benefits to First Nation's communities.

Innovative solutions are needed and they should be implemented without years or decades of wrangling in law courts. First Nation's people did not understand their relationship with the forests in European land ownership terms. They had a direct relationship with the forest. It sustained them in multiple ways by providing, food, shelter, clothing fiber and medicine. It had spiritual significance.

The idea that forests should provide multiple benefits and not just timber is a major criterion in the the Montreal Process, an international agreement on sustainable forest management. The traditional First Nation's relationship with BC Forests was advanced in this respect.

A true solution is one that will restore the relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forests. A necessary part of this solution is some legal and institutional arrangements that will ensure sustainable stewardship of the forest. This will be easier to achieve if the forest remains under Public or Crown ownership.

Under a land claims approach, First Nation's communities may manage to enclose public forest into their private interest. Given the grudging nature of the process to date,these areas of forest may be of insufficient size to permit economic operation. These forests will just add to the stock of private forest land that can be harvested by forest corporations with reduced requirements for stewardship inputs. Forest corporations will benefit. The net result for First Nations communities is more of the same.

The relationship between First Nation's communities and their surrounding forest landscapes can be restored through new legal and institutional arrangements for Public forests. The Local Forest Trust would give stewardship responsibilities to First Nations Communities. There would be an elected board and a professional forest management staff for an area that is of sufficient size to support economic operations. A Forest Trust Assembly would provide support and audit progress toward sustainable forest management. The Local Forest Trust would have an elected and professional delegates on the the Forest Trust Assembly.

The idea of re-establishing the relationship between First Nation's communities and the surrounding forest should not be restricted to First Nation's communities. It is so grounded in basic common sense that it should apply to other communities also. That local relationship and interest will help progress toward sustainability and ensure that the public forests are retained for the equal benefit of all.

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