Treaty should trump Farm Lands Commission, First Nation says

“If we had our own farm bill, we would be able to look at species that have high cultural and nutritional value for our people.” ~ Erik Blaney, Tla’amin Nation

A Tla’amin Nation leader, Erik Blaney, says his government has had problems with the B.C. farmland reservation and commission system for six years.

“The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) placed restrictions on our land that we never agreed to and were never consulted with,” says Erik.

The program set aside 4.7 million hectares for agricultural use in 1973 – an area of ​​land spread across British Columbia, almost the size of Nova Scotia. This was nearly 20 years before the Tla’amin began settling their land and governance claims through the BC Treaty Commission. Currently, the ALR supersedes the Treaty of Tla’amin, it seems.

In other words, the ALC does not allow the Tla’amin Nation to control approximately 273 hectares of its treaty lands. ALC rules prevail over Tla’amin laws; anything the country does on these 2.73 square kilometers must be approved by the ALC.

In British Columbia, the RLA represents approximately 5.5% of the territory; in Tla’amin it is 3.3%. “That’s the biggest frustration we felt because those were the areas that were inherited to us when we took land from the province,” says Erik.

The nation attempted to regain its governance rights through discussions with the ALC to have full control over Tla’amin lands. The Tla’amin also have an obligation to negotiate with the province through the Final Agreement Act treaty for more land.

“However, we now have to deal with ALR and ALC. It’s almost a revolving door of competence between the Ministry of Agriculture and the ALC”, explains Erik.

Currently, the Tla’amin, the Department of Agriculture and the ALC continue to have meetings to discuss the Tla’amin’s plans for the ALR areas and to resolve this issue, according to Erik.

“We understand the importance of farmland and our people have managed our land and resources in a holistic way that has provided food resources for our people using our Ta’ow (ancestral teachings),” says Erik.

The Tla’amin want to use the ALR areas of their territory for agriculture.

Erik says there is archaeological evidence that shows that before settlers arrived, the Tla’amin people burned areas to grow purple camas and chocolate lilies.

“Mitlenatch and Savary Island were used to grow these historic crops,” Erik said. “When agriculture was introduced to our people after contact, we began raising cattle and sheep and used Harwood Island to raise these animals.”

With full control of their land, Erik says the Tla’amin could decide how farms operate in the land.

“If we had our own farm bill, we would be able to look at species that have high cultural and nutritional value for our people. We would be able to focus on these cultures and manage them in our historical way.

Erik envisions that farms in Tla’amin territory could range from five-acre hobby farms to 100-acre tenures that could be shared or leased to individuals.

“Food security has been in the spotlight during the pandemic, and [while the nation was isolating in September of 2020] having to wait for our fruits, vegetables and meats to be delivered to us was quite scary,” says Erik.

“Now, with the threats of World War III and demands for fuel, we are going to see members of our nation unable to afford the food they need. We must create sustainable local access to food for our people and we have to do it on our terms as a self-governing nation.

Amalia H. Mercado