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 take responsibility.
“If we’re doing that, then senior governments have to step up
to the plate, as well.”