Sunday, January 13, 2013

Everyone's Land Claim: Freedom from Colonialism

First Nation's were in the news again recently, meeting with Canada's prime Minister seeking redress from more than a century of colonial treatment. A land claims process has been underway in BC for many years, but it appears to be an expensive run around that benefits lawyers rather than advancing the lot of First Nation's people.

The business of colonialism is about taking over land, subjugating the people to take advantage of  resources. It is the ultimate "Taker Mentality".  To enable their colonial business, the Romans developed a type of land lease called a "Usufruct" that enables the holder to take the crops or resources from some one else's land. Taking from the land without putting back some stewardship is not a recipe for sustainability. The "taker mentality" eventually hurts the taker.

First Nation's people want to retain a separate identity and equal opportunity with others in Canadian society. A society also needs to rub everyone with the same brush or animosities or disparities will develop. The colonial brush has not been good for First Nation's people, but most of the rest of us do not understand that our public lands have also suffered. Most of BC remains in public ownership. This land was not taken, but rather it was given to everyone for everyone's benefit. This is the essential nature of public land. It is a public trust for everyone's benefit.

BC Government administrations have betrayed this trust in several ways. First Nation's people are keenly aware because they did not get their share of the wealth that was generated. The rest of us, who live mostly in cities removed from the land, are also getting shafted, but we have failed to recognize the fact. Our public forests were given over in the form of timber harvesting rights to forest corporations. The rights are usufructs that provide for the taking of timber, usually the best timber first. Taking of the best timber from public forests ran the coastal forest industry into problems and in the interior of BC helped to develop a huge reservoir of old lodge pole pine stands that were susceptible to mountain pine beetle attack. $100 Billion in timber went to feeding beetles rather than the BC economy. After more than half a century of taking too much of the best timber out of BC's public forests, forest corporations are being rewarded for their rapacity by gaining more management control and responsibilities over public forests. It is really a form of stealth privatization. Public forests are also at risk of being carved up and alienated as reparations for the social injustice suffered by First Nation's people.

Our perspective on our public forests remains colonial. We still think of a new land with virgin forests with timber for the taking. Our legal and institutional framework for managing public forests reflects a colonial perspective. Last year in response to a sustainability crisis in timber supply, a Special Legislative Committee was formed to look at squeezing more timber supply from depleted forests. Even leaders in forest dependent communities were on board, seeking economic benefits from scraping up short term timber supply. Most of these folk do not seem to realize that they and their families are probably going to be dependent on well managed forests in the long term. Real effective leadership would aim for new laws and institutions that will ensure sustainable forest management and a sustainable future for their communities.

Public forests are about a higher ideal than mere ownership. Management of forests is a long term affair. Public forests were first advanced because governments as an enduring trustee could see to continued stewardship, as compared to individual owners that could change in short periods or be motivated to exploit their forests for short term gain. The government's job is to ensure enduring stewardship. Carving up public forests for forest corporations or First Nation's is not in everyone's best interest. Central BC Government administrations have viewed the public forests as a barrel of goodies to be handed out for political purposes.  This habitual misuse of a public trust needs to be constrained in some new institutions.

Colonialism usually involves the central management of land from some distant large city.
Everyone's Land Claim involves devolving the public forests to Local Forest Trusts. Local Forest Trusts would comprise a relatively large area of forest exceeding 100,000 hectares that can be operated as a profitable business. The Local Forest Trust would have an elected board and a professional forest management staff. It would operate under a charter that would require sustainable forest management as defined by the Montreal Process, an international agreement. The business of the forest would not just be timber, but would include non- timber forest resources and nature based and recreational economic activity. Local Forest Trusts would be supported and audited by a BC Forest Trust Assembly governed by elected and professional delegates from local forest trusts. First Nation's could also have local forest trusts. The same deal for everyone. This arrangement would take the forests out of the hands of Provincial politicians in Victoria. The existing centralist arrangement has been a bad deal for everyone. The colonial gold rush mentality has to stop.

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