First Na­tions in B.C. call for more con­trol over fire­fight­ing

Ju­ris­dic­tional dis­putes dis­rupted abil­ity to re­spond to re­cent fires

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CANADA -

First Na­tions in the path of Bri­tish Columbia’s forests fires say to pro­tect their com­mu­ni­ties they need equal fund­ing and recog­ni­tion of their ex­per­tise that is granted to other emer­gency re­sponse or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The Assem­bly of First Na­tions adopted a res­o­lu­tion at its an­nual meet­ing last week in Regina call­ing for an end to ju­ris­dic­tional dis­putes be­tween dif­fer­ent lev­els of gov­ern­ment that dis­rupt Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties’ abil­ity to re­spond to the re­cent fires in their own back­yards.

Chief Judy Wil­son of the Neskon­lith In­dian Band said First Na­tions must be more ac­tively in­volved in ne­go­ti­at­ing agree­ments to en­sure Indige­nous fire­fight­ers and other ser­vice providers get the same recog­ni­tion as re­gional and pro­vin­cial au­thor­i­ties.

“They are front line and they need to be rec­og­nized the same as any other fire­fight­ers and also re­sourced prop­erly,’’ she said.

The prob­lem stems from a his­tory of gov­ern­ments de­vel­op­ing emer­gency plans and set­ting for­est man­age­ment reg­u­la­tions with­out con­sult­ing First Na­tions, Wil­son said.

“A lot of th­ese old agree­ments have never had our in­volve­ment,’’ she said.

“If the dis­cus­sion and those changes could oc­cur, they’ll ben­e­fit ev­ery­one be­cause the bot­tom line is we’re pro­tect­ing the peo­ple and pro­tect­ing the land.’’

A new 10-year agree­ment by the B.C. and fed­eral gov­ern­ments took ef­fect April 1 ear­mark­ing $30 mil­lion to im­prove the de­liv­ery of emer­gency man­age­ment sup­port ser­vices on re­serves.

Robert Turner of Emer­gency Man­age­ment BC said the agree­ment, which had the sup­port of the First Na­tions Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, is im­prov­ing emer­gency man­age­ment on re­serves by pro­vid­ing more re­sources for plan­ning, train­ing and pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

“There’s been a great deal of ef­fort to en­sure First Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties are fully en­gaged in the wild­fire con­text,’’ he said in an in­ter­view.

Those ef­forts in­clude hav­ing First Na­tions li­aisons work­ing at pro­vin­cial and re­gional emer­gency oper­a­tions cen­tres and hav­ing com­mu­nity lead­ers take part in daily phone calls that are co­or­di­nat­ing re­sponse ef­forts.

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