First Nations in B.C. call for more control over firefighting
Jurisdictional disputes disrupted ability to respond to recent fires
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.