Work on giving the nine local First Nations in Greater Victoria more input into Capital Regional District governance activities has been ongoing since 2015.
The CRD board, sitting as committee of the whole on Oct. 28, took further steps along that road, giving preliminary approval to a new bylaw that opens the door to representation on standing, select and advisory committees from each of the nine area nations. Provincial law currently prohibits participation on the CRD board by First Nations without a modern treaty in place.
The board had previously unanimously voted to make further First Nations input into CRD decision-making one of its strategic priorities for this term, 2019-22.
“This is very important to me personally, as I believe our country needs to reconcile, heal and move forward in a respectful and thoughtful way being inclusive of First Nations perspectives, territories, and expectations,” said CRD board chair Colin Plant after the meeting.
Based on research into which committees’ work might affect or potentially be of interest to First Nations, staff chose the CRD’s First Nations relations; governance and finance; environmental services; solid waste advisory; planning, transportation and protective services and regional parks committees for inclusion as of January 2021.
Directors also approved the next step, to connect with elected officials from each nation to see if this list is complete in their view or if a broader area of input would be desirable.
“But I suspect with the additional consultation we may not hit January as a start date,” said Plant. “We will go out with an open mind and engage in authentic consultation.”
Plant is “optimistic” the CRD is on the right path to greater First Nations participation. “And to show the importance of this work, I intend to participate in these discussions with First Nations leadership to seek input on the bylaw and ask how they envision participation at the committee level,” he said.
While some directors voiced procedural and even logistical concerns, given COVID-19 safety regulations, of having up to nine extra members on the chosen committees, CRD board vice-chair Denise Blackwell said later in an interview, “everybody around the table believes it’s important and that we get off on the right foot.”
“It’s something that we want to do in this era of truth and reconciliation. It’s important for us to reach out and see what they want to do,” she added.
CRD First Nations Relations staff have connected with seven of the nine nations and heard interest from some chiefs. “If they don’t get traction from a couple of the bands, it’s probably not going to make or break (moving forward),” Blackwell added.