After first being elected to office, politicians learn quickly that there is always more to most issues than what first meets the eye.
There can be a disconnection between taxpayers and government at all levels on issues because of a lack of information or that information being poorly communicated.
MPs have an obligation to be informed and to learn as much as we can on issues of importance.
But I’m often surprised at how a given perspective can change as more complete information becomes available.
Sometimes, it can be a case of a lack of general public knowledge that is a factor.
One example of that pertains to First Nations.
Most constituents in Okanagan-Coquihalla are aware their riding has many different First Nations communities.
It’s frequently observed how there are varying levels of prosperity and economic success within different First Nations communities, the positive side of that frequently attributed to the leadership shown by a particular band council or chief.
While there is no question that leadership plays a very important role in every community here in our region, there are some other unique factors within First Nations communities that people are generally not aware of.
While it may be commonly assumed by many that all band lands are managed collectively under the guidance of the chief, council and band administration, it’s important to recognize there are also lands allocated to an individual band member or family.
Often referred to as “locatee lands,” these land holdings are not unlike privately owned non-native land.
A locatee has the ability to make decisions with respect to their land use, independent of the local chief and council.
It’s not uncommon in my constituency for a locatee to lease their lands to private sector activities that may sometimes be controversial.
The status of band lands versus locatee lands was generally established many decades ago when reserve boundaries were first defined, and many historical considerations were used as part of the criteria.
Every band, from a geographical perspective, will have different and variable relationships between the size and location of locatee lands versus band lands.
This is an important fact to be aware of as some bands will have complete control of their most strategically valued lands, whereas in other cases similar advantaged lands may be under the control of an individual locatee, or after they pass on inherited by a family member(s).
From the perspective of a chief and council, it can be much more difficult to implement projects and engage in development activities if prime band lands are access challenged or are competing with locatee lands that may enjoy the benefits of easier access and an enhanced ability to be provided services.
Fortunately for those bands who engage in taxation, First Nation taxation does apply to improvements on locatee lands as well as band lands, so a greater tax base can be developed over time.
We are fortunate here in the Okanagan to have some very progressive First Nations communities with forward thinking leadership currently pursuing some ambitious projects that will benefit our region.
While this is a somewhat simplistic overview of some of the challenges facing First Nations land use, I am hopeful that this information can provide more context of the unique challenges that may face one particular band more so than another.
I value my strong working relationship with many of our Okanagan First Nations and look forward to more success in moving important projects forward for our region.