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Tla'amin Nation, qathet Regional District and City of Powell River leaders have discussion on expanding economic opportunities

Tla’amin executive council member interested in hearing proposals regarding economic reconciliation
SHIFTING BALANCE: Tla’amin Nation representatives outlined the need for economic reconciliation at meeting held between qathet Regional District, Tla’amin, and City of Powell River politicians and senior management.

Economic reconciliation will be examined by the three local governments after a joint meeting considered the topic.

At the October 13 community-to-community-to-community (C3) meeting, with representatives of qathet Regional District, Tla’amin Nation and City of Powell River in attendance, Tla’amin executive council member Dillon Johnson said the regional district and city have taken positive steps toward reconciliation and Tla’amin wanted to acknowledge and appreciate that. He said he also wanted to hear any proposals regarding economic reconciliation.

“That’s something that doesn’t often get considered or actioned,” said Johnson. “I’m not looking for full answers today but it’s maybe something we can bring back for our next agenda after our partners have a chance to think about it and talk about it.

“Obviously, the confirmation of the children’s graves at Kamloops has brought reconciliation back into the mainstream discussion and to the forefront. There has been work being done over the past few months around that, and items such as marches and orange shirts and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. There are efforts being made and those are important, but they are also fairly low-hanging fruit."

Johnson said the efforts do nothing to shift any balance of power or privilege from a socioeconomic standpoint.

“It’s hard work that needs to be done, because it makes folks scared or uncomfortable or makes them feel guilty,” said Johnson. “That’s the stuff that needs attention because the symbolic things I’ve mentioned are not going to do anything for First Nations people to be brought into the economic mainstream and take our rightful place at the economic table.

“The great aim of the Indian Act was to remove all potential for economic activity and marginalize Indians to the extent that they would have to move away from the reserve because there is no way to make a living. Assimilation was the great aim. That puts us at a huge disadvantage from an economic perspective.”

Johnson said First Nations people are trying to find their way out of that.

“We made a great sacrifice and committed a lot of time and effort towards our treaty,” said Johnson. “We’ve got this new relationship and we want to use that to bring our people up. We are huge contributors to the economy here in this town.”

Johnson asked if meeting participants knew how difficult it is to start a business on First Nations land. He said it’s getting better with the treaty and the opportunities it provides, and added that all of the economic spinoffs created in the Tla’amin community are captured by Powell River and the businesses around the region.

“We need to do some more work to provide balance,” said Johnson. “It’s not about taking from settlers and giving to Tla’amin, it’s about growing the economic pie and including Tla’amin in that growth. There are some things that local government can do.”

Johnson said the proposed Tla’amin Townsite compost facility was a real lost opportunity.

“Here was a proposal that considered Tla’amin being able to use some of our land for an economic venture that provided benefits to the whole region,” said Johnson. “It upset a handful of settlers in an area of town and created political pressure and ultimately tipped the scale away from us. If we had belief in economic reconciliation, that should have carried the day.”

Leishman sees opportunities

City of Powell River councillor CaroleAnn Leishman thanked Johnson for his comments and said there were so many opportunities for collaboration and economic development. She said she has been trying to focus on potential for local energy projects: renewable energy projects that could benefit the entire region.

“Specifically, Tla’amin and the city could partner on a local renewable energy project,” said Leishman. “There are opportunities out there and I think we are coming up to having some resources to start looking into something.”

Tla’amin executive council member Erik Blaney said what economic reconciliation means is indigenous people looking at the bottom line of building sustainable communities in a good way and creating healthy populations.

“It’s creating that opportunity for our people to succeed, not just in our village, but elsewhere throughout the community,” said Blaney. “How many indigenous businesses do you see in the city right now? How many indigenous people do you see working in the city right now? It’s a challenge.”

Blaney shares experience

Blaney said his entrepreneurial spirit was shattered when he tried to start a business in the City of Powell River. He said he tried to start a food truck and spent a considerable sum building the business, and the city was “nothing but a roadblock for us.”

“That business went bankrupt after spending about $200,000 in the city to get that set up,” said Blaney. “That was definitely not economic reconciliation and working with the indigenous community to create prosperity. Four people lost jobs and we lost a lot of money. That showed me there is a lot of work to do with our neighbours to create opportunities in our traditional territories for our people.

“One of the most disheartening things I heard was: why don’t you go back to your side of the bridge? There was a real us versus them mentality. Economic reconciliation is about creating those opportunities to allow indigenous people to thrive, and I just don’t see that in this community. When we moved the food truck to Kamloops, they opened the door with no permits and said we were welcome. It was a stark difference in trying to do business in my own traditional territory, which really hurts.”

qathet Regional District chair Patrick Brabazon, who chaired the C3 meeting, said it is evident the three governments are not talking with each other, and that it had been suggested there was need for brainstorming on economic development. He suggested the three chief administrative officers (CAOs) meet and see if they could come up with some questions for the politicians to answer. The CAOs agreed to put the matter on a coming agenda for a joint meeting.