There’s no place on Earth quite like Xeni Gwet’in.
Down a gravel road, about halfway between Williams Lake and the Pacific Coast, this community in the Nemiah Valley is breathtaking: Snow-capped mountains loom over pristine, turquoise water, and moose and wild horses roam some of the world’s most undisturbed wilderness. No wonder this place is sacred to the Tsilqhot’in people who have watched over it for centuries.
They and their land may seem far away, but their concerns and priorities are urgent and central to British Columbia’s future.
This summer, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its decision in a case originally brought by Chief Roger William on behalf of the Tsilqhot’in people, concerning a dispute over logging in the Nemiah.
The significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling is profound. In short, it sets out a clearly defined legal responsibility for government and industry to respect and accommodate the interests of First Nations on land where aboriginal title is claimed or proven.
This presents us—all British Columbians—with a tremendous opportunity. The court decision provides welcome clarity around questions of aboriginal title. And it represents a chance to redefine the relationships between First Nations communities, government, and the private sector.
It’s an opportunity to secure genuine and meaningful social license from First Nations for responsible resource development—and sets a high bar for government and industry to ensure protection of health, safety and the environment. And it underlines the importance of welcoming First Nations as full partners in projects that create jobs and opportunity across British Columbia.
Earlier this month, I visited Xeni Gwet’in to open a new chapter in the Government of British Columbia’s relationship with the Tsilqhot’in Nation. I signed a letter of understanding with their six chiefs, including Chief William to work together in partnership for the benefit of First Nations and of all British Columbians.
The next day, I had the immense privilege of convening a historic gathering: a government-to-government conference that brought my cabinet and I to meet face-to-face with leaders from 203 First Nations from throughout B.C.
While there will always be areas of disagreement, the All Chiefs gathering confirmed we have much more in common than we do keeping us apart. We all want to protect British Columbia’s splendour for future generations. We all want lasting, sustainable prosperity that allows every citizen of British Columbia to achieve his or her full potential. And we all want to live in harmony with our neighbours.
Years ago, in the Delgamuukw decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Lamer said “we’re all here to stay.” He was right. It’s up to us to find ways to build real, fair partnerships with each other.
Here in the Central Okanagan and across B.C., we will have countless opportunities to build a better province for everyone who lives here. We have proven time and again that economic development can be balanced with environmental protection and world-class quality of life. With First Nation communities at the table in an atmosphere of recognition and respect, we will all be even better off.
Christy Clark is the Liberal MLA for Westside-Kelowna and Premier or British Columbia.