Ulkatcho First Nation seeks support of aboriginal affairs critic NDP MLA Scott Fraser as it makes case for protection of its forestry agreements for West Chilcotin Forest Products to British Columbia's timber supply committee

WILLIAMS LAKE, British Columbia , July 9, 2012 () – Aboriginal affairs critic NDP MLA Scott Fraser was in Williams Lake Thursday meeting with First Nations groups.

“I’m here because the timber supply committee is in town today. I was invited by the Ulkatcho First Nation who are making a presentation,” Fraser told the Tribune Thursday.

“The Ulkatcho have agreements with the government and have concerns they aren’t getting meaningful government to government consultation. I want to bear witness to their presentation. They have forestry plans and they have signed agreements and they have a mill, and their plans are fairly long-term sustainable plans that involve not just the timber resource, but recognizing other values within the territory,” he said.

Fraser said if Ulkatcho’s submission was completely ignored, then he could raise their concerns in the legislature.

In an e-mail response by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to the Tribune, Minister Steve Thomson was attributed saying the government is committed to providing community stability and working with communities on further economic development.

“This is demonstrated, in part, by the recent forest revenue sharing agreement and tenure opportunity agreement that we have signed with the Ulkatcho First Nation,” the ministry said. “We encourage the major forest companies to continue working with the band on a positive business to business relationship.”

A revenue sharing agreement and forest tenure opportunity agreement have been signed, confirmed the province. The forest tenure opportunity agreement includes an offer of a non-replaceable licence for 62,500 cubic metres a year for 20 years and a replaceable licence to cut 26,000 cubic metres a year.

The agreement is in addition to a 20-year licence to cut 140,000 cubic metres a year that expires in 2019.

Last week Gary Arnold, interim general manager of West Chilcotin Forest Products, raised concerns that forestry companies have shape filed the trees in the region, before the Ulkatcho have had a chance to get out there.

“It’s huge. We are talking a million cubic metres of wood the companies have shape-file ribboned already and I am now in possession of information that those informal shape file ribbons are now formal,” Arnold told the Tribune.

Tolko’s operations are moving more westward, Woodlands manager Tom Hoffman confirmed. He also said the last time the company actively harvested in the area was around 2006.

“We believe there is ample volume in the Anahim area that can be shared with all interests. We are not trying to minimize or exclude West Chilcotin Forest Products from gaining access to fibre, but we do have, according to our timber licenses, the right to go and harvest out there,” Hoffman said.

Fully appreciative of Ulkatcho wanting the best opportunity to negotiate with government, Hoffman said Tolko does not want to usurp that relationship.

“They’ve even offered to sell us 200,000 cubic metres of volume as late as October, November of last year. We want to work with them. We sincerely do not want to be a threat,” Hoffman said.

Fraser also discussed the treaty process, describing it as “glacial” in speed.

“It was never designed to be static, but needs to evolve,” he said. “There’s no way a First Nation should have to go into debt to negotiate on a level playing field. The federal government should release First Nations from having to pay that back, in my opinion.”

Referencing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, Fraser noted he carries copies to hand out wherever he goes.

“It’s not a law, but it’s a lens to look through that the world expects indigenous people to be treated in a certain way. Any government needs to be mindful of what’s in there,” he said of the declaration.

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