Can representatives from First Nations have a seat at the regional district board table?
That was the question asked by Chief Lorne Shovar of the Akisqnuk First Nation in a letter to the Regional District of East Kootenay in March.
However, there is no allowance for First Nation seats on regional district boards that have not completed the treaty process, according to legislation contained within the Local Government Act.
The RDEK voted to send a letter back to Shovar and the Akisqnuk First Nation with that information, but some board directors said there are ways for First Nations across the region to provide input when making decisions.
RDEK board chair Rob Gay said while First Nations don’t currently have voting rights at the regional board table, they can still be involved in the decision-making process.
He uses Area Planning Commissions as an example.
“For the rural areas, we have an area planning commission and the commissioners are basically hand-picked by the directors,” Gay said.
“What we try to do is get people around the region, so in the case of Area C, I have someone from Moyie, I have someone from Ft. Steele, someone from Wardner, and these people volunteer their time to look at planning and development applications and provide advice.”
Gay said he empathizes with the desire of First Nations to have a voice at the RDEK table.
“We are looking for opportunities for First Nations to become involved with our form of government, so that may be an opportunity to appoint somebody on our planning commission boards,” Gay continued.
Shovar’s letter requested that a full chair, with all associated responsibilities and duties, be given to each First Nation within the RDEK.
“The Akisqnuk First Nation, like other first nations in the area, is a democratic community with a council elected to make the best decisions possible for its members,” Shovar wrote. “In this way, first nations are much like the municipal governments that you and your fellow board members represent.”
In addition to sending a response to Shovar, the RDEK board voted to give the Gay—the board chair—and Wendy Booth, the vice-chair, informal authority to meet with the Akisqnuk chief and other interested First Nation leaders to explore options that would allow them to provide meaningful input to RDEK decisions.