The Capital Regional District is moving toward closer relations with First Nations, which would allow Indigenous residents to serve on committees and commissions.
The CRD’s First Nations Relations committee recommended Wednesday the CRD board open the door to representation with an eye to full participation at the board level in the future, said Sooke Mayor Maja Tait, the committee chair.
“This is significant work for us,” she said.
Several First Nations within the Capital Region signaled their interest in being part of the board and its committee structure, expressing a desire for more involvement in discussions and in decisions that may impact them.
There are provincial legislative restrictions with the Local Government Act that prevents First Nations representation at the board level, but CRD directors can amend their procedural bylaw to allow Indigenous residents to sit at commission and committee levels, says a staff report.
“A number of approaches have been explored and implemented by other regional districts that the CRD can consider that are within its authority to create more opportunities for First Nations in regional discussions,” the report stated.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said more collaboration with First Nations is a positive step.
“It is time and by us pushing this envelope hopefully we’ll push the province into amending [the Local Government Act], and we can get fuller participation,” Desjardins said.
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said the committee’s decision was long overdue and is an evolution of regional government.
“It was an oversight in the past when the CRD was created that Indigenous representation wasn’t provided for,” he said.
The First Nations Relations committee has worked on the issue for six years when Songhees First Nation Chief Ron Sam signalled the nation’s interest in having formal representation on the CRD board.
The committee came up with a set of recommendations that was presented to the board in 2019, and this year adopted a statement of reconciliation and terms of reference to push the plan forward.
If Indigenous people are allowed to participate on committees, members will be appointed by First Nations councils. Committee members would receive an annual stipend of $12,000 per year.