Under the direction of Shuswap Band biologist, Braydi Rice, 29, the Shuswap Band is busy developing an environmental management plan (EMP). An EMP is a statement of goals, actions, and strategies that a First Nation community pursues in maintaining or improving environmental quality on reserves, while meeting its obligations under the “Framework Agreement.” The “Framework Agreement” refers to The Framework Agreement on First Nation Land Management, a historic, government-to-government agreement signed in 1996 between thirteen First Nation communities to opt-out of the 44 lands related sections of the Indian Act. The agreement recognizes First Nations’ inherent right to govern their reserve lands.
An EMP is a powerful expression of environmental governance of First Nations land, helping to fulfil the original spirit and intent of the agreement. Drafting an EMP takes time and involves community outreach.
Rice had already organized an open house at the end of July for Shuswap Band members to attend and give feedback as to what the community’s top environmental concerns are. “An EMP is about looking at what current concerns are about the environment and what the priorities are for the Shuswap community,” Rice says.
Rice, who is Métis, grew up in the valley. She didn’t think she’d be able to return home so soon until she saw the biologist job posting in 2020. “My dad encouraged me to apply and here I am!” she says laughing. Rice holds a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Memorial University, a master’s degree in forestry from the University of British Columbia and a post-graduate diploma.
Before joining the Shuswap Band as resident biologist, she had worked for several years in conservation and land management from the United Kingdom’s Bangor University. She had worked for several years in the Lower Mainland as a consultant to First Nations communities. “As a consultant, I was helping First Nations draft their own EMP’s among many other things,” she says. For Rice, to come home and work for the Shuswap Band, she was able to bring her experience and work toward creating an EMP without the aid of outside consultants.
The feedback Rice received after the first open house suggested to her that fish habitat was the number one priority among Shuswap Band members. The July open house was the first of two. The second is in the planning process, likely to take place sometime in October. When it does, members can expect an event. “There will be dinner, prizes, kids’ activities, the works,” Rice says. After the second open house, Rice will work to compile the second round of feedback, create the top ten environmental priorities, and then start drafting the actual EMP for the Shuswap Band reserve which is 1,077.62 total hectares in size.
James Rose, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer