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Discussion on First Nations Rights and Title from the Beach

Recently, we’ve heard some beach arguments or discussions about the loss of campsites related to First Nations’ land and title rights. There are arguments or discussions about the public’s right to access and use resources within parks or on crown land as Canadians, freely and without restraint. One argument we sometimes overhear is that as Canadians, our right to roam the coast freely supersedes the rights of Aboriginal title and resource management. The argument describes that people can go wherever they want, whenever they want. This type of statement has little to no consideration of existing Aboriginal title or the ongoing dispossession of Indigenous lands. Here at BC Marine Trails, we believe in not only acknowledging aboriginal title but building mutually trusting and beneficial relationships that uphold and combat this common argument.

The BC Marine Trails recognizes aboriginal title and a changing government response to title assertions. Aboriginal title refers to the inherent right to land or an area within a traditional territory. This right is not given externally, but is the result of the Nations’ occupation and relationship with their traditional territory. Nations had their own social, legal, and political systems in place long before Europeans arrived.

Our association like many nonprofits, is placed into the centre of a changing government response to aboriginal title and the management of land and water resources. Fortunately, BCMT has had the guidance of a knowledgeable chair, committee, and liaison to guide us through a minefield of changes. Our association has to remain flexible. Our association works with 40+ Nations and each interaction is unique.

In a number of Supreme Court cases, it has been established by the courts that British Columbia crown cannot unilaterally claim a right to logging, mining or other natural resource use alone, but must engage in meaningful consultation with First Nation title holders. These landmark decisions established that governments must consult “meaningfully”. We already knew that aboriginal title underlies crown title throughout Canada as per the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The aboriginal people were in possession of land before the assertion of British Sovereignty.

This ever-evolving legal understanding has continued on a trajectory that is leading to ever-increasing recognition of title and roles in land and resource management. The province is seeing management rights and responsibilities asserted within territories, now, without long and lengthy court cases for the most part. These assertions are not being met with opposition by the BC provincial government or Canadian crown authorities, who have recently adopted UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples).

Governments are waking up to the idea that every First Nation will have title rights over a portion of their traditional lands. This is a small step away from the previous provincial strategy wherein they opposed Nations at every step of the way. Rather, the government recognizes that title and rights exist generally and then negotiates agreements as to how land and natural resources will be managed in collaboration between the First Nation and Provincial or Federal authorities.

The BCMT has recommended approaches that will guide our engagement with First Nations around land and natural resources and specifically strategies around IPCAs (Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas). As mentioned it is an ever-changing landscape and BCMT will have to be flexible in our understanding of these developments. BCMT will continue to build strong relationships and goodwill with First Nations. BCMT will always remain flexible, respectful, consistent, and ask how we can best engage with each Nation. BCMT is a small organization but we believe working together with First Nations can build a sustainable and respectful culture of recreation on the coast.

BCMT is actively working with Nations to remove sites with cultural considerations. Our map is not the only source of information and paddlers may choose to venture into these territories on their own. But our job is not to just provide information. It is to work consistently with First Nations and listen to their requests and work to provide this information to the public.

Recently, BCMT has had two instances where our patient engagement process has allowed us to build recreational opportunities. After the removal of a few sites and patiently waiting, our relationship with two different Nations has allowed us to revisit how BCMT can support recreational development in their territories.

While we understand that our trail may lose some connectivity in the interim, we believe that building meaningful and trusting relationships is more important than single campsites up and down the coast. BCMT is commited to continue working with First Nations along the coast to build a sustainable and respectful recreational culture.

This article was based on the BCMT’s chair paper to the association. On page 12 and 13 of this document the board reviewed and voted to accept the recommendations. Please read further about Indigenous Protected Conservation Areas and other topics.

Visit our First Nations page.

Cameron Dalinghaus

Cameron is an avid kayaker and surfer living and recreating on the traditional territories of the Tla-o-qui-aht and Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nations in Ucluelet, BC. Cameron is a graduate of the Thompson Rivers University Adventure Guide Diploma and holds a Bachelors of Interdisciplinary Studies. His studies focus on natural resource sciences and Indigenous studies, with an emphasis on the intersection of colonial and Indigenous governance in Haida Gwaii marine and land use planning. Cameron spends his time commuting by kayak to private surf spots and exploring the hidden gems of BC’s coast. Cameron is also a professionally trained level 3 sea kayak guide with the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC. His passion for paddling and the sustainable and ethical use of our coast makes him a perfect fit as our Coastal Stewardship Coordinator.