Plans to improve a dangerous stretch of road alongside Lillooet
Lake are inching forward, as the area MP tackles a new cabinet portfolio.
Recently appointed Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs,
Chuck Strahl, said Friday he is aware of the poor condition of the In-SHUCK-ch
forest services road, and plans to participate in further meetings to discuss
what should be done in the area.
The road, which runs along Lillooet Lake, floods often, leaving
members of the In-SHUCK-ch First Nations who live in the area stranded, and
halting operations for logging companies who use the route on a regular basis.
There have also been two fatal car crashes along the same
section of the road in the last five months.
Strahl, who is the MP for the area, said he met with Gerard
Peters, chief negotiator for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation, about three weeks ago, and
was told that improvements to the FSR would be included in the In-SHUCK-ch’s
ongoing treaty negotiations.
“He wants to make that part of any future settlement, so… we’ll
see what he and the negotiators come up with,” said Strahl.
Strahl attended the first In-SHUCK-ch days celebration in
Skatin last weekend to sign the In-SHUCK-ch’s Agreement In Principle negotiated
under the B.C. treaty process.
Peters says it took the federal government too long to conclude
this fourth stage in the six-stage negotiation process. While the province and
the In-SHUCK-ch Nation signed the agreement in principle last October, it’s
taken the federal government almost a year to give its formal approval.
The In-SHUCK-ch began treaty negotiations in 1993.
“It took longer than it had to, and I’m not pleased by that at
all… there’s no reason why Canada had to wait so long,” said Peters.
While Peters said the In-SHUCK-ch FSR has been raised as a
treaty issue, he isn’t concerned that the road will be neglected until a final
treaty agreement is reached. He said he is somewhat optimistic that progress
will be made on the road now that Strahl is Minister of Indian Affairs.
“I believe that we’ll have a more direct contact,” Peters said.
“I’ve known Chuck for many years now, and I think we can relate on a readier
basis than I could have with his predecessor.”
Strahl said after driving along that stretch of road with
provincial Environment Minister Barry Penner, about three years ago, he
understands why improvements are a priority for the In-SHUCK-ch Nation.
“Obviously, whenever an isolated community can get a good road
system in there, the better it is for them,” said Strahl. “Not only does it
improve access, but it allows for things like power lines and other things to
be built along with it.”
Strahl said that any upgrades made to the road would be the
responsibility of the provincial government, because it currently falls under
the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Forests.
“The federal government doesn’t build roads, or own roads, or
maintain roads anywhere, so the only thing we get involved with federally is
the national highway system, so we don’t get into that part of it.”
Peters said he has discussed the issue of the forest service
road with Strahl, and most recently reminded the minister that, while a member
of the opposition party, he had argued that Canada had to take some
responsibility for the In-SHUCK-ch road.
Peters also pointed out that a “good portion” of the FSR
bisects Indian reserves, which fall under federal jurisdiction.
“That aside… Canada has a fiduciary responsibility as it
relates to Indians and their basic needs, and one of the basic needs that
anyone has is the ability to have safe travel, and we don’t,” said Peters.
He added it is important to sort out the jurisdictional
conflicts surrounding the road.
Peters has asked MLA Joan McIntyre to arrange for a meeting
with representatives from the Ministry of Forests, key stakeholders, members of
the traveling public, and federal government officials.
Until a long-term solution can be reached, Peters is hoping the
road can be kept in good shape.
Over a month ago, the In-SHUCK-ch Nation partnered with Lizzie
Bay Logging Company on a contract with the Ministry of Forests to maintain the
forest service road, providing basic services like sanding and grading.
But Peters was quick to point out that the joint venture isn’t
about making money. Rather, they have committed to invest money made through
the contract back in the road, in hopes that governments will follow suit and
“If we’re doing that, then senior governments have to step up
to the plate, as well.”