Chief Leween said that the agency and the government were having a cooperative discussion over the issue. (BC Natural Resources forum)

Chief Leween said that the agency and the government were having a cooperative discussion over the issue. (BC Natural Resources forum)

“It’s a process, but at what cost?” says Cheslatta Carrier Nation chief

Hoping for a quick resolution over B.C. addiction treatment centre rejection

Farmland regulations under the B.C. NDP government have resulted in blocking a proposal by the Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS) to open an addiction treatment centre in Vanderhoof.

“Years and years ago we started throwing the concept around a treatment facility in the North; we had seen quite a need for it with the opioid crisis, with rural living and you know having some of our people that live in the city but don’t have access to treatment for addictions,” said Cheslatta Carrier Nation elected chief Corrina Leween and president of CSFS.

The regional tribal council’s family service agency looked at several options over the years, performed feasibility studies on roughly eight to nine sites and zeroed in on the closed fishing resort on Tachick Lake near Vanderhoof in July 2020.

“The services to be offered in this facility will work to begin to address some of the alarming rates of harm being endured by Indigenous people in our home communities. There is a detox process they have to go through (during their treatment) and when they do that they need to be close to a medical facility. Vanderhoof came in with a better access to medical facilities and being close enough to attract professionals. That was an issue with a lot of communities that we wanted to see the treatment facility go into. So Tachet was kind of the ideal spot,” she said.

On Feb. 26, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) North panel made the decision to reject the proposal for the agency to put in any new buildings, constructions and for a non-farm use exemption.

In a letter dated Mar. 4 to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson, Leween noted that the lakeside property has been used for a fishing lodge since the 1950s, and the remote land has never been farmed.

The proposed healing centre has the support of the First Nations Health Authority and Indigenous Services Canada, the federal agency responsible for reserves.

Malcolmson said Monday she met with Leween Mar. 9 to confirm the province will fund such a treatment facility, but the ALC is an independent body with a mandate to protect viable farmland.

“This is not an NDP government decision,” Malcolmson told the B.C. legislature March 15. “I’m working with my counterparts in cabinet. I’ve given my commitment to Chief Corrina Leween that we will pursue this further. Our investment in Carrier Sekani Family Services remains. We are reliant on them as a deliverer of services right now all across B.C.’s northwest.”

Leween agreed that they were having a cooperative discussion on the issue.

“They are really are trying to find innovative ways so they are cooperating in that respect and you know, it is legislation. It is an old rule. There has been cases when the commission’s decisions have been overturned due to circumstances. So we are in that process right now,” she said.

CSFS has also been having discussions around funding for the $16 million project, $5.7 million of which has been provided by the First Nations Health Authority. The treatment facility would be open to the members of the CSFS First Nations, then all First Nations people and then the doors would be opened up to non-First Nations people if there are beds available.

Last week, Premier John Horgan offered to meet with B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, about the issue.

“I just think that this process is, a process but at what cost, right? We are talking about people’s lives and so many of our communities have been affected directly and indirectly by overdose. This treatment facility is badly needed because down south, or north of us the waiting list is very long because they have always been overcrowded,” said Leween.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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