Concerns over treaty and the possible transfer of Crown lands drove Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations to write a letter to the Resort Municipality of Whistler over its Official Community Plan (OCP).
That's according to Squamish Nation Chief Bill Williams, who said that if his First Nation were to resume negotiations towards a treaty, all Crown lands would need to be on the table as part of the process.
And the Resort Municipality of Whistler, he said, needs to include a sentence in its OCP recognizing the possibility that Crown lands in and around its boundaries could be transferred to both the Squamish and the Lil'wat Nation as part of that process.
"They have to identify that they are within the Squamish Nation traditional territory, and any provincially-held Crown lands are up for negotiations for settlement or treaties," he said. "The Squamish Nation is broadly interested in any provincially-held Crown lands. If it happens to be in the RMOW, then it happens to be there."
The August letter, sent to the resort municipality jointly by chiefs of the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations, essentially stopped Whistler from being able to implement its OCUP update. The letter expressed concern that the present OCP Draft and Planning Process does not "adequately reflect or recognize" First Nation interests in Crown lands.
"We respect RMOW's desire to control development through the OCP and PAN (Protected Area Network) policy, but we ask that those policies also respect the legitimate aspirations of our nations as well as our aboriginal rights and title," the letter said.
When First Nations negotiate treaties they essentially wean themselves off the federal Indian Act. They become independent governments, with the ability to make their own laws and land use decisions without having to go through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The BC Treaty Commission prescribes a six-stage process for negotiating such an agreement, which can result in Crown lands being transferred to First Nations for the purpose of economic development.
The Squamish Nation entered the treaty commission process in 1993 and currently sits at stage three, but has not made any significant movement in negotiations since 1995, according to the commission's website.
Williams said the Squamish Nation hasn't yet shown any intention to get back into the treaty process but if they do, they want all the Crown lands in and around the resort municipality to be on the table and subject to negotiations. He didn't specify any particular lands that the Nation is interested in.
"Whether or not the Squamish Nation chooses to get into the treaty process, we have to protect our interest in whatever land is left," he said. "If we don't voice our opinions, then there will be no land left."
Williams added that the Squamish Nation brought this issue up with the Resort Municipality of Whistler numerous times before sending the letter but never received a response.
Meanwhile, Lil'wat Chief Lucinda Phillips said her First Nation joined with the Squamish in penning the letter because the two parties have a protocol agreement to work together with an overlap area between their traditional territories.
The Lil'wat Nation also wrote the letter because it asserts aboriginal title to its entire traditional territory, including land within the resort municipality's boundaries. And because it asserts that title, the resort municipality has a legal obligation to consult and accommodate infringements on that title.
"The Lil'wat Nation has a rich history of cultural use of the lands within the RMOW," she said. "We have historic village sites, hunting and gathering traplines, ceremonial areas, and many recorded and unrecorded archaeological sites."
A spokesperson for the resort municipality said in an interview that it has met repeatedly with the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations regarding the Official Community Plan process and is inviting them to further consultation in the coming weeks.
The municipality is also inviting comment from bodies including the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, the Sea to Sky School District and agencies with the provincial and federal governments. The municipality is inviting final feedback on he OCP to be submitted before October 21