The Penticton Indian Band are going to have less bureaucratic hoops to jump through when it comes to decisions made regarding band land.
The PIB announced it would be joining the First Nations Land Management Regime, a step towards self-government and resource control, at the Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School on Tuesday.
“This will allow them to operate a lot like a municipality. So there’s less of Ottawa’s direct approvals and whatnot, which can really significantly hold up the process,” Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas said. “They can act on economic development opportunities that come up and not wait for Ottawa to get around to approving things.”
The PIB joins 90 First Nations operating and developing land codes under the Land Management Regime, 47 of which are in B.C. The federal government is providing $30.3 million over the next five years, which is expected to add another 25 First Nations to the agreement.
Chief Kruger said he had a lump in his throat during the announcement.
“I got emotional just thinking about how far we’ve come so far in the last number of years. We’ve gone through some vast changes in the last 10 years being so progressive,” Kruger said. “We’ve talked a lot and planned a lot and now we’re putting those plans into action.”
The agreement will make decision making more community based and more efficient according to Kruger.
“We don’t have to have the say-so from our community and then I have to go over to Vancouver and spend $2,000 of extra money out of our budget to get the stamp of approval, we just need it from our community members,” Kruger said.
“This legacy that we’re creating for our families is great and it’s got momentum behind it.”
Chief Robert Louie of the Westbank First Nation and chair or the First Nations Lands Advisory Board said a study done on self-governing First Nations by KPMG in 2013 found that of all the bands involved in the study there wasn’t one that wanted to abandon the self-governing model.
He added with the new agreement First Nations bands are finding that land management activities are faster, there is better accountability of third parties to First Nations, more consistency with land use plans and First Nations values and visions are being strengthened.
“The reserve system and expropriation of our land splintered our people into remnants of our previous existence. Those were days past,” Louie said. “The (Syilx) Okanagan and the First Nations people across Canada are survivors, we survived and despite the many injustices suffered under the Indian Act, we have prevailed.”
The announcement is the beginning of a two-year process designed to engage community members and bring together active community consultation.
“We’re just getting started. In the last seven years we’ve been so progressive and doing things instead of talking about things,” Kruger said, adding some First Nations communities have the process done in less than the two-year time frame.
The PIB has also created a pilot project using government funding to create a land use plan and is one of two communities in B.C. doing a land use plan.
Louie said because the PIB is the largest reserve in B.C., with 46,000 acres, decisions need to be made on how much land will be set aside for environmental protection, community development and economic development. It’s a head start for the band according to Louie.
“I think we’re way ahead of the game,” he said.