Simpcw First Nation (Simpcw) is taking to the media after its efforts to meet with Minister Polak have been ignored for the last nine months “Maybe this will force a response,” says Rita Matthew, Chief of Simpcw “We have written Minister Polak numerous times in the last nine months to express our concerns with the future of our parklands and to request a meeting. The province sits silent. We have been completely ignored.”
The province passed the Parks Amendment Act, 2014 (“Bill 4”) in March 2014 without any consultation with the public or First Nations. It is now in the process of finalizing the draft Policy for Issuing Park Use Permits for Research Purposes (“Draft Research Policy”). Together, Bill 4 and the Draft Research Policy enables industry proponents to apply to the province to remove land from B.C.’s parks and protected areas to facilitate development.
There are eight provincial parks within Simpcw Territory, Simpcwul’ecw, over which Simpcw asserts exclusive Aboriginal Title. The Simpcw community describes the parklands within Simpcwul’ecw as being inherently tied to its identity and culture. The community relies on the parklands today to engage in their traditional practices and to teach their youth. Simpcw councillor, Fred Fortier, explains that Simpcw has relied on the fact these lands were designated as provincial parks and thus kept safe from development and encroachment, “Exposing our parklands to development will affect our ability to preserve our culture. We will not allow this to happen. Our identity relies on being able to pass down our culture and traditional way of life to our youth – and our parklands play a key role in this.”
Meanwhile, the province is proceeding with Trans Mountain’s application to alter the boundaries of Finn Creek Provincial Park and North Thompson River Provincial Park, parklands within Simpcwul’ecw, to facilitate pipeline construction.
Simpcw warns that the Province had better get to the table to discuss Trans Mountain’s application before giving it the green light, “The idea that the province has not properly engaged with us and is instead relying on a public comment period is preposterous. It is an insult and a joke,” adds Chief Matthew, “We are not a mere stakeholder. We hold Aboriginal Title to the land. A government-to-government discussion must occur before the Province makes any decision affecting Simpcwul’ecw.” Chief Matthew clarifies “The issue is not with Trans Mountain. This is about the province enacting legislation and policy to unilaterally make decisions which encroach on our Aboriginal Title lands without our consent.”
Simpcw also calls on the province to refrain from finalizing the Draft Research Policy until it engages in government-to-government discussions with Simpcw.
Simpcw’s position is firm, “The Province must reconcile Bill 4 with Simpcw Aboriginal Title and obtain our consent to implement the Draft Research Policy,” says Councillor Shelly Loring, “as far as Simpcw is concerned, Bill 4 and any associated policy does not apply to Simpcwul’ecw “.
Simpcw First Nation is a division of the Secwepemc, or Shuswap, whose traditional territory encompasses approximately 5,000,000 Ha in the North Thompson region. Simpcw has a membership of nearly 700 people. Their mission statement is “Simpcwemc are a culturally proud community, valuing healthy, holistic lifestyles based upon respect, responsibility and continuous participation in growth and education”.