Government, industry reaching out to forge economic benefit deals in the North
It’s a ghostly scene on the Nak’azdli reserve with a cold fog hanging in the March morning air.
Along the Stuart Lake Highway that cuts through the middle of this First Nation community, there is a steady stream of industrial traffic: Huge, mudspattered pickups, flatdeck trailers loaded with heavy equipment, logging trucks with their trailers bunked on the way to pick up logs deep in the forest, and semitrailers carrying supplies or wood chips.
The rattling, incessant traffic is testimony to the resourcebased economy in the Northern Interior. In the past, the First Nations in the area had to fight to get a piece of the action. In 1994, two railway bridges were burned down north of Fort St. James after a First Nations blockade was removed by the RCMP.
The arson was an unusually extreme event – meant to stop the movement of logs by rail – but First Nations often turned to blockades during the ’80s and ’90s to protest timber leaving their traditional territories, which, as they saw it, brought no benefit to their communities.
Not only was unemployment high for aboriginals, but they argued that while they were at the treaty table the very resources under negotiation were disappearing.
Their relationship with the B.C. government and industries in the Northern Interior during that era was, with few exceptions, acrimonious. But two decades later, there has been a remarkable shift, largely driven by high-profile aboriginal court victories, and a recognition by both government and industry that to do business in B.C., First Nations must be consulted and accommodated.
At the Nak’azdli First Nation administration offices, just off the highway and adjacent to the community of Fort St. James, chief Fred Sam is preparing for a briefing by the province and the Mount Milligan mining company on an inspection of the earth dam that holds back mine waste.
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