A new way of relating is in the making.
Members of the Neskonlith Indian Band’s economic development corporation, some of the band’s political representatives and most members of Salmon Arm council as well as the city’s chief administrative officer met at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort Thursday, Dec. 18.
The meeting was hosted by Ska’tsin Resources Ltd., the band’s business arm, which invited Salmon Arm representatives to a meet and greet.
Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson explained the purpose of the meeting, in terms of economic development.
“The intent was to look at the potential opportunities and address issues with regard to any highway corridor development or any of the continued projects in the Neskonlith-Salmon Arm areas.”
Ongoing issues included highways, some of the culturally significant areas such as Mount Ida, the Salmon River delta, and waterways and trails.
“How we engage economically through our corporation and the (Salmon Arm Economic Development) Society,” Wilson said.
Trails were a big topic, one she found very positive.
The band’s political representatives attended in order to follow up on a protocol with the City of Salmon Arm.
Wilson said the city and the band plan to hold a forum before the end of March in order to work towards an agreement.
Mayor Nancy Cooper refers to the protocol also as a “communications document.”
“Some people call it a protocol document – it’s really about how we communicate,” said Cooper, noting that one of the top issues was how both political entities can work better together.
“Not one ahead of the other but side by side – how do we do this,” Cooper said.
Wilson referred to discussions at a comprehensive leadership forum that was held Dec. 3 to 5 at Quaaout Lodge, where representatives of all 17 bands making up the Secwepemc Nation met.
One of the issues there was aboriginal title and rights, and the Supreme Court decision in June which awarded aboriginal title to the Tsilhqot’in people, meaning they would have to give consent, rather than simply be consulted, over land-use decisions.
“The government is trying to force us all though court at the public’s expense and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” Wilson said.
She noted that the dialogue and proposed protocol with Salmon Arm is part of a better way.
“That’s what we’re doing today with the City of Salmon Arm – and I think it can be meaningful.”
Like Wilson, Cooper referred to trails as one of many projects to collaborate on.
“For years, we’ve been talking about having a trail out there to their area… Maybe now’s the time,” Cooper suggested, noting the Neskonlith are already working with the Shuswap Trail Alliance and talking to the Ministry of Transportation and CP Rail.
She said inclusion of First Nations’ cultural heritage as part of a tourism plan was another topic discussed at Thursday’s meeting, as well as collaboration setting up a new campus for Okanagan College.
“There were a lot of topics put out there… They all had a chance to speak, then city council all had a chance to speak. There seemed to be a lot of agreement. We have to find ways to work together – we’re neighbours.”
Cooper said council was told about Mount Ida and its cultural heritage, how it is a sacred place for First Nations. She said there is concern that all-terrain vehicles are destroying some areas on the mountain.
“They asked about it. I’m not sure what we can do but we will look into it. We would like to protect some of that as cultural and heritage significant.”
Cooper noted that Neskonlith band member Louis Thomas has been acclaimed to the Neskonlith band council for the Salmon Arm area and he would like to be more involved in the work of Salmon Arm Council.
She said he is welcome to sit in on the Salmon Arm Economic Development Society and council’s Environmental Advisory Council.
“He’s more than welcome…,” Cooper said. “Anytime he thinks there’s something else he’d like to sit in on, he’s more than welcome.”
Overall, Cooper said, “it was a very positive meeting. Everybody from our side went away feeling good about the meeting. Our desire is to get together in March. We will come with our thoughts on what a communication agreement or protocol will look like,” she said, adding that she expects creating one will be a process rather than an initial agreement.
Wilson thought the timing for the meeting was right.
“I think most people thought it was timely,” she said.
“There’s a willingness to have further dialogue on the issues and look at a community forum.”