Several First Nations in the Cariboo are expressing dismay they will not be allowed to participate in upcoming aerial wildlife surveys by the B.C. Government to collect data on wildlife populations.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed its staff is not flying with anyone else, including contractors, volunteers, university graduate students, First Nations representatives or staff from other ministries.
“Ministry staff would seek opportunities to involve First Nations representatives on aerial wildlife survey flights - as they have done for many years - if there wasn’t a global pandemic occurring and corresponding safety protocols were not in place,” a spokesperson said in an e-mail.
Northern Secwepemc communities said while they understand the severity of the pandemic and are in full support of restrictive procedures that ensure the health and safety of the public, other organizations such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada continue to operate and invite the participation of community members with additional safety restrictions in place.
In a news release, Williams Lake First Nation chief and NStQ spokesperson Willie Sellars said the province needs to ensure there is meaningful involvement of First Nations in major initiatives like the aerial survey program if they want to live up to their obligations under UNDRIP.
In the case of the Northern Secwepemc, Sellars noted they also have a government to government agreement on land and resource use that further suggests the need to collaborate on the aerial surveys.
“When you talk about First Nation inclusion and using that historical knowledge, that traditional knowledge on how we preserve the populations so we can continue to harvest them generation after generation, how are we not involved in that discussion?” said Sellars told Black Press Media.
Conducted annually, the wildlife surveys are expected to begin in January 2021 and be completed in March 2021.
First Nations representatives in the Cariboo have participated in past aerial surveys, and the spokesperson said the ministry has communicated to them that staff will seek opportunities to involve First Nations participants in future aerial wildlife surveys when observers are once again able to take part in the flights.
Sellars said it comes down to trust.
“We want to be able to trust those bodies that are tasked with watching over our resources, but if we’re not involved, how can we trust those bodies?” he said.
“That’s the frustrating piece.”
First Nations communities, including Sellars’s, rely on the aerial surveys’ data to establish strategies and programs that will aid in conservation and stewardship measures. The information can also be used to acquire more funding to pay for long-term protection of the resources within their traditional territories, noted the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council (NSTC).
NSTC natural resources manager, Kate Hewitt, estimates the 2021 aerial surveys within the Cariboo cover nearly 80 per cent of Northern Secwepemc communities’ traditional territory.
The Northern Secwepemc consists of Esk’etemc and the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ), including Canim Lake Band, Soda Creek Indian Band, Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, and Williams Lake First Nation.
Rebecca Dyok, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Williams Lake Tribune