Heiltsuk Nation Examines the Crown’s Duty to Consult and Accommodate
Recognizing that their rights and title to their traditional territory have never been extinguished, the Heiltsuk Nation continually honors their special relationship to the land by fishing, hunting and practicing cultural activities on the land. The majority of Heiltsuk citizens reside in Bella Bella, a remote community, accessible only by boat and air, located in the Central Coast of British Columbia along the famed Inside Passage. Their total membership is approximately 2200.
In September 2009, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council came together to discuss specific questions surrounding the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate their interests. It was an opportunity for them to discuss the implementation of their own Heiltsuk policies and approaches to dealing with government, industry and third parties through consultation and accommodation of their inherent rights and title.
NCFNG delivered presentations and hosted dialogue sessions on Defining the Duty to Consult and Accommodate, Federal Fiduciary Obligations, the Impact of Federal and Provincial Laws on Inherent Rights, and Elements Needed for Successful Consultation. Additional topics covered were Federal, Provincial and Territorial Policies, Outcomes on Duty to Consult, and representation of Heiltsuk people in consultation and negotiations.
Prior to this workshop, and in partnership with NCFNG BC Region, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council undertook a Governance Capacity Assessment in 2007 and 2008. The results clearly indicate that Heiltsuk has a strong mandate to work collectively together to achieve effective governance. “Heiltsuk Tribal Council took part in the Governance Capacity Assessment (GCA) initiative to engage our membership on their thoughts and ideas to improve upon existing and/or institute new good governance practices for our Nation. Good governance entails many things; accountability, transparency, participation, predictability and consistency. Although a challenging undertaking, the GCA initiative is an initial step. Heiltsuk Nation looks forward to further working with the National Centre for First Nations Governance to identify our next steps.” shared Leo Lawson, the coordinator of the GCA.
More recently, Heiltsuk Tribal Council has begun to focus on economic development and activities to increase resource use and generate revenue for membership.
In 2003, when Heiltsuk Tribal Council opted to direct the focus of their activities from the BC Treaty Process to land use planning and economic development, they began to demand that other levels of government recognize their inherent rights to the land. This was in relation not only to their court case, R. v. Gladstone, that recognized their rights to a commercial fishery but also to the understanding that there exists a need to address and resolve the issues around the land, leadership and third parties.
The consultation process needs to lead to accommodation of Heiltsuk views being incorporated into decisions made regarding the development of land and resources in the Heiltsuk Territory.
Heiltsuk Tribal Council has developed a clear direction through their work in the area of dealing with the land question. They have developed a Land Use Plan, Forestry Agreements, Memorandums of Understanding with other interested groups, and an economic development plan. In addition, since 1996, the Heiltsuk people have sought an outcome on the “Gladstone Reconciliation Process”.
NCFNG commends the Heiltsuk Tribal Council on their ongoing efforts in the significant area of consultation and accommodation.