Burns Lake council decided to cancel a meeting with a B.C. minister where they would discuss a possible expansion of the Burns Lake boundaries.
The proposed boundary expansion would include the approximately 89,000 hectares of the Burns Lake Community Forest.
In a letter to Burns Lake’s mayor and council, Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George said he was “extremely upset” that the village was planning to meet with a minister without consulting with the Burns Lake Band first.
“The government cannot give up any lands without consultation and the free prior and informed consent of the title holders,” said Chief George in the letter dated Aug. 2, 2016. “If any lands were to be given up, the title holders must be fairly compensated for those lands.”
“I strongly urge the mayor and council to not only apologize for their mistake, thinking that they can just take our lands, but to also begin consultation with us immediately,” he added.
Council was planning to meet with minister of community, sport and cultural development Peter Fassbender during the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Victoria next month.
Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold said he spoke with Chief George after receiving the letter and that the village has requested a meeting with the Burns Lake Band to have further discussions.
“We appreciate the letter from Chief George and our council is committed to working together with local First Nations to strengthen our region,” said Strimbold.
According to Sheryl Worthing, Chief Administrative Officer for the Village of Burns Lake, council recognizes the need for further consultation with local First Nations before any meetings with the provincial government can take place.
“Council heard from local First Nations and recognized that further conversations and consultation with local First Nations needs to take place prior to proceeding further,” said Worthing.
“Council may still consider a meeting at a future date, but not until further consultation has taken place.”
Burns Lake councillor John Illes explained that if the municipal boundaries included the Burns Lake Community Forest (BLCF) area, the BLCF would automatically become tax exempt, resulting in more profits that could be shared with the community.
“Any fully municipally owned company operating within the boundary of that municipality would become tax exempt,” he said.
From Nov. 1, 2014 to Oct. 31, 2015, the BLCF donated over $280,000 to local organizations.
In addition, Frank Varga, BLCF general manager, said a boundary expansion could open provincial funding opportunities that are only available to municipalities.
“The possibilities are endless, you just have to become aware of the opportunities, and take advantage of them,” added Varga. “So I think exploring the idea is how you progress forward.”