Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Letter to the editor of the BC Forest Professional

Perspectives on aboriginal title in the last edition were timely given the release of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Geoff Plant spelled out reconciliation in terms of forests as full participation by aboriginal people in the forest economy.
While the viewpoints were well informed and interesting, they somewhat sidestepped essential truth about aboriginal title. It is a community based sustainable trust that devolves trusteeship from the Province. It is incompatible with the existing legal and institutional framework of timber harvesting rights under the Forest Act. If we try to manage aboriginal title under the Forest Act, it will reduce aboriginal trusteeship to a child that has to be supervised and we will have a situation that mirrors the problems of the Indian Act.
The community based sustainable trust concept of aboriginal title is an advanced concept that needs a legal and institutional framework to make it work. It needs some form of democratic representation from the community and it requires some trained professional resource managers.
The best way to make aboriginal title compatible within a framework for sustainable stewardship of Crown forest is to turn the rest into local trusts. Forest dependent communities have been somewhat dispossessed of their healthy forests by the existing framework of harvesting rights. Local trusts could reconcile the situation and bring sustainability.  In some areas, there will be competing aboriginal title and community forest claims. One local trust can be designated and a ward system from the various aboriginal and other communities can make up the board of governance. Trained forest professionals would supply management on all aboriginal and other Crown forest under devolved local stewardship.

Aboriginal title is an advanced concept of a sustainable community forest trust that should apply to all forest dependent communities. We need a new legal and institutional framework to make it work. Rub all communities with the same brush.

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