By Andrew Mitchell
The Lil’wat Nation tabled the first phase of a land use plan in mid-October, expressing their vision for the types of activities that can take place in different zones within their traditional territory, and expanse of nearly 740,000 hectares.
Within that territory — an area that includes Whistler, Pemberton, the Soo and Callaghan valleys, as well as 13 provincial parks — they have created six land use designations that permit or restrict different kinds of activities.
The highest level of protection is given to Nt’ákmen (Our Way) Areas, which are designated for purely First Nations traditional activities and prohibit activities like industrial resource extraction, intensive tourism and land development. Identified Nt-ákmen areas include the Upper Soo Valley, an area also of interest to Whistler environmentalists.
In 2004, the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment put forward a proposal to set aside 6,500 hectares of the Upper Soo Valley as a wildlife refuge to offset the Olympic development taking place in the neighbouring Callaghan. Although the idea has so far been rejected by the provincial government and the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, members of the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan have approved the concept in principle — providing timber companies were compensated for the loss of a portion of their harvesting land base. The Squamish Nation also identified the land as a sensitive area within their own land use plan, which overlaps with Lil’wat plans in several areas.
With the Lil’wat designating the Upper Soo as a Nt’ákmen area, the idea of creating a wildlife refuge in the area has been given a considerable boost.
“As far as the Upper Soo is concerned, we recognized the considerable wilderness values in the Upper Soo years ago but the Lil’wat Nation have been on the land there for a very long time and have a better understanding than we do of those values,” said Eckhard Zeidler, who first spearheaded the AWARE proposal for an environmental legacy in the Soo back in 2002. Zeidler was elected to municipal council in 2005, where he continues to back the idea.
“It’s really encouraging for us as friends of the Soo to see that they’ve expressed those values by designating it as Nt’ákmen,” he continued, “as well as the fact that they’ve recognized that and enshrined it in their Land Use Plan.”
The Lil’wat Nation’s plan will be further refined and detailed in future iterations, but it’s unknown how it will work with the provincial government’s Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan. The Sea to Sky LRMP is mostly complete and is expected to go to provincial cabinet this winter for final approval, but in the meantime it is being used as an interim guide for the region “pending completion of Government to Government discussion with First Nations and the final approval of the LRMP”. There will also be a public review of the plan, pending the completion of the government to government talks.