BC government won’t compensate business displaced by Aboriginal title

“Reconciliation should not leave people behind.” Scott Ellis

While B.C. cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the landmark Tsilhqot’in First Nation court case in Nemaiah Valley on Wednesday, Doug McMann was 50 kilometres away watching his guide outfitting business, and his family’s livelihood, slip away.

McMann had just received devastating news: After six years of waiting, the B.C. NDP government had denied his request for compensation after the Tsilhqot’in court victory, and the resulting recognition of Aboriginal rights and title, meant he could no longer access the Crown land upon which he had a guide outfitting certificate, near Tatlayoko Lake, in the Chilcotin.

“I’m 55-years-old and honestly we’re going broke,” said McMann, who owns Skinner Creek Hunts with his wife, Julie. “We’ve sucked this up for six years and watched our savings go out the door every year with the province [saying] we are going to make you whole and figure it out.”

McMann is one of four local guide outfitters who’ve been through the ringer with the provincial government since the Tsilhqot’in court ruling became the first declaration of Indigenous title in Canadian history. 

And he’s at the tip of a much larger issue playing out in British Columbia over the real-world consequences of reconciliation efforts, where existing businesses find themselves cut off from the land, and unable to get any help from the province.

The NDP government has already backed down once on changes to the Land Act, amidst an outcry from affected businesses and locals.

McMann has been unable to access the prime hunting area in his legally-obtained guide outfitting certificate for six years, after the Xeni Gwet’in First Nations chief and council (one of the six communities that form the Tsilhqot’in nation) refused to re-sign a pathway agreement with the province that would have let him continue to hunt in the area.

McMann was promised compensation by top government officials, and said he received verbal support from Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin and Lands Minister Nathan Cullen.

But then, last Thursday, after six years of appraisals and negotiation, the compensation package was abruptly denied by treasury board officials in the Ministry of Finance.

“The assistant deputy minister phoned me, and she has been involved since 2018, she was even at the initial meeting,” said McMann. “She said, I don’t know what to say, we thought this was going through, I’m so sorry.”

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