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A watershed moment

Opinion
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It’s just one little cutblock, but it tells you how things can go forward in this country.

When B.C. Timber Sales (a division of the provincial Ministry of Forests) advertised last month it was auctioning off three cutblocks in the McNeill Lake watershed, there had been no meaningful consultation with the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD). Instead it was the environmental group Elphinstone Logging Focus that brought the matter to the public’s and SCRD’s attention.

The SCRD board’s reaction was to pass a strongly worded resolution calling on the province to withdraw the three cutblocks from this month’s timber sale. Disgusted with the lack of consultation, directors also demanded the province establish a working communications protocol to help end these chronic disputes over logging in the region by keeping local government informed of pending activities.

In response, the province said it would develop a more effective communications protocol, but had no intention of withdrawing any cutblocks from the McNeill Lake timber sale.

All that changed after a site visit on Feb. 8. Within two business days, the province had agreed to pull the most sensitive cutblock — 1.7 hectares closest to the lake — and sounded very serious all of a sudden about improving communications.

So what happened during the site visit?

According to SCRD chair Garry Nohr, the intervention of Sechelt Nation Chief Garry Feschuk was pivotal. “Garry Feschuk made it happen,” Nohr said succinctly.

Coming on the heels of the Idle No More protests, the McNeill Lake turnaround demonstrates Canada’s shifting power dynamic.

As senior governments have progressively marginalized local governments and ordinary citizens from decision-making, First Nations have stepped into the vacuum, demanding real democracy, real stewardship of the environment and real justice — concepts that many Canadians have simply given up on.

The senior governments listen because First Nations hold Aboriginal title to the land and have constitutional rights that are ignored at government’s peril. They can and will take action if those rights are trampled on.

This is a good thing for Canadians. Elected local government officials, no matter how dedicated or informed, have limited reach when it comes to influencing the powers that be. First Nation leaders, however, as we saw with the McNeill Lake cutblock, can cut through the bureaucratic hokum and “make it happen.”

It’s just one cutblock, but McNeill Lake could be a template for the future.


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