Council weighs in on proposed changes to federal reserve policy

Cranbrook city council talks about the municipal impact of changes to the federal government policy

Cranbrook city council debated the merits of proposed changes to the federal governments policy that deals with First Nations reserve creation, during Monday night’s meeting., Oct. 21.

It came after the city received a letter from the mayor of Delta, B.C., citing the repercussions the changes to the ‘Policy on Additions to Reserve and Reserve Creation’ could have for municipalities all over B.C.

“Proposed amendments to policies on reserves and reserve creation have some very significant effects on local governments, in particular the changes will allow First Nations to add lands to their reserve that are outside of their traditional territory,” Mayor Wayne Stetski paraphrased from the letter. “This means for example the First Nations of the Cariboo could acquire land in Delta and include it in their reserve thereby removing it from municipal jurisdiction.”

Delta’s mayor, Lois E. Jackson was seeking support from other municipalities to ensure the policy changes are not adopted as proposed. At the moment, the federal government is requesting feedback on this issue and so Mayor Jackson is urging those who share her concerns to contact the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development directly.

Coun. Bob Whetham said the issue was quite serious and he didn’t think the federal government had thought it through.

“To try to go and introduce governance within governance with no particular criteria or guidelines that are sent out; I think we’re creating a long term problem,” Whetham said. “I really appreciate the work that Delta has done to bring this forward. It’s something that needs to be discussed and it seems that local government has been left out of this whole exercise.”

Whetham said if they were talking about additions to reserves in the same way that municipalities extend their boundaries — something that is continuous and works with the structure already available — that would be one thing, but as it stood the changes would allow a change in title to be grounds for a new government.

“I think this could create real problems for everyone. I really think this needs to be pursued,” he said.

Coun. Sharon Cross agreed that it should be taken seriously.

Coun. Gerry Warner saw problems with the proposal as well.

“I understand that overlapping land claims by first nations cover virtually the entire province,” Warner said. “You might find yourself without a community some day.”

Coun. Denise Pallesen said that she wanted council to ask the UBCM for feedback on the letter before putting all of the city’s weight behind it.

Stetski said that while the proposal was interesting it would likely bring confusion all across the province.

“Even just the confusion between First Nations that might all want the same parcel of land in downtown Vancouver or Delta. Why the federal government wanted to take that on is interesting,” he said.

Everyone but Pallesen was for supporting the letter, Pallesen then made a second motion to ask for feedback from the UBCM.