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NDP a Jumbo-sized Fail on Indigenous Issues, Says Former Candidate

‘It’s really nowhere in their list of priorities.’

By Andrew MacLeod 5 Dec 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

To Troy Sebastian, a Ktunaxa Nation member and former British Columbia NDP candidate, the provincial government’s failure to condemn the Jumbo Glacier ski resort project in the Kootenays is symbolic of its failure on Indigenous rights.

“What I’d like to hear is this government is actually going to stand with Ktunaxa on this,” Sebastian said of the demand to protect the valley the Ktunaxa call Qat’muk. “‘Not on my watch.’ That’s what I’d love to hear.”

Here’s what Premier John Horgan said when The Tyee asked Thursday whether the project would ever proceed with the NDP in government: “I think there are serious issues there. It’s in an avalanche zone, it’s certainly not wanted in the community, and I know the minister involved is working very hard to protect the interest of the public.”

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in early November that the resort proponent, Glacier Resorts Ltd., could build on land the Ktunaxa hold sacred. The chair of the company’s board, Arnold Armstrong, said in a statement at the time, “The project can now move forward. We seek to work in a cooperative spirit and believe that the common good and the beauty of the project will ultimately bring people together.”

The project, however, faces other challenges. In 2015, then-Environment Minister Mary Polak decided that since construction had not substantially started, Glacier Resorts would have to apply for a new environmental assessment certificate.

The company, which didn’t respond to a request for comment made last Friday, has filed a lawsuit against the environment minister in the B.C. Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of the decision.

Asked for an update on the project, Environment Minister George Heyman said, “It’s not in my ministry. I can’t tell you.”

Both Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Minister Doug Donaldson and Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson cited the company’s ongoing court action as a reason to say little about the project.

“I understand there’s still some legal activity going on around that. I’m waiting for that to complete,” Robinson said. Jumbo Glacier Mountain Resort Municipality continues to exist, but the provincial government is no longer funding it, she said.

Sebastian ran for the NDP in the 2001 and 2009 elections, then quit the party in 2010 and released an open letter that criticized the party’s approach to Indigenous issues.

“I don’t believe the BC NDP have any bearing whatsoever on how to move forward when it comes to Indigenous peoples, what the province should be doing or not doing,” he said last week. “It’s really nowhere in their list of priorities. I don’t see any indication they’re willing to spend any political capital whatsoever.”

In opposition, the NDP was critical of Jumbo, especially Norm Macdonald, who represented Columbia River-Revelstoke and didn’t run in the 2017 election, Sebastian said. “Subsequent to the change in government, it’s more or less the same thing. It’s this issue that no one really wants to touch, that no one’s really willing to resolve.”

The longer there’s delay, the more it looks like tacit consent, he said. “There’s a great need and opportunity for the province to reconcile itself with Ktunaxa Nation on this issue and to not waste any time on that.”

It’s offensive that the municipality, which has no residents, exists, he said. “Right now that municipality has more legal standing in the government’s mind than our nation does,” he said. “It has more legal recognition in the province’s framework than a nation that pre-exists British Columbia itself. That tells me everything.”

In four months since forming government, the NDP has eliminated bridge tolls, acted on its promise to use every tool available to block the Trans Mountain pipeline, and set in motion a process that could change the province’s electoral system, Sebastian said. “And yet on Indigenous issues, I don’t see anything to distinguish them whatsoever.”

The NDP defends legal contracts, such as the one for teachers that the previous government broke, but doesn’t seem to extend that to recognizing Indigenous title. Asked Sebastian, “What about the fact these lands are unceded?”

He pointed out that there are quarterly updates on the province’s finances, but not on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. “Where’s the quarterly update on that?”

Scott Fraser, the Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister, said the feedback he’s received so far has been positive. “We’ve been meeting with First Nations from all over the province over the last 100 days, every day, almost every day, five six times a day,” he said in mid-November. “I think we’re making big steps in the right direction.”

He might also have pointed out that Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, has already said the current government should be re-elected.

Fraser said the treaty process is alive and well, and the government is looking at ways to improve it. “I’m impatient. I want to move things forward at a rate that’s faster than the resources can allow,” Fraser said.

“I understand impatience,” he said, noting that for any reconciliation to last, building public support will be key. “There’s a lot of high expectations here. We’re addressing those expectations and we’re making sure First Nations are partners with us. That’s going to take time.”  [Tyee]

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