The chief of the Lil’wat First Nation “wasn’t happy at all with the level of consultation” her community received during the drafting of Whistler’s Official Community Plan (OCP), which guides municipal land use and development decisions.
Local governments are provincially mandated to consult with nearby First Nations communities during the process, which saw the first major overhaul to the document since 1993.
The chief concern for both Lil’wat and Squamish communities surrounding the amended OCP is pursuing their economic interests on provincially-owned Crown land that falls within the municipal boundary.
The RMOW placed a hard cap on future development in the community, and doesn’t have the jurisdiction to allow the First Nations to pursue economic interests freely, said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
“We cannot say we’re not going to regulate Crown land. We cannot give Crown land an exemption from land use regulations and so we just agree to disagree on that point and we’re moving along,” she said.
Further consultation between the two parties has since ended, with both First Nation communities scheduled to meet with provincial officials before the OCP can be approved.
“At the end of the day, we were hoping that through this process we would really build a relationship between the RMOW and the two First Nations, but considering they severed and cut off all ties, it’s pretty frustrating and not at all what we hoped for,” said Lil’wat Chief Lucinda Phillips.
Wilhelm-Morden said that the RMOW never severed negotiations with the two nations, and the record of consultation between them “is very detailed and quite thick, frankly.”
“I read The Question’s article last week and (the mayor) had stated that they had a binder full of consultation, but I think we met once or twice with previous mayor and council and maybe two or three times with the current mayor and council, and we shared what we would have liked to see in there, but we never even got into the real details elaborating on what we would have liked to have in the document. They took our suggestions into consideration and kind of ended it at that,” said Phillips.
Wilhelm-Morden said Vancouver lawyer and planning expert Bill Buholzer, who provided legal council to the RMOW throughout the drafting of the new OCP, called the level of engagement between the municipality and local First Nations “leading edge” compared to other community plans in the province.
Whistler’s 1993 OCP contained no mention of local First Nations. The current document, which was more than 15 years in the making, has 12 policy mentions concerning the First Nations.
The mayor said, as far as she knows, the land use issues facing the community and the Lil’wat and Squamish nations is unprecedented for the province.
Whether the municipality has jurisdiction to allow the First Nations to pursue their economic interests on Crown land is “for a judge to say,” said Wilhelm-Morden.
“I’m hoping it would never get that far,” she added.
Phillips wished the municipality took more time to consider her Nation’s concerns before taking it to senior levels of government.
“I think through further discussion we could’ve come to an agreement that we both could have went to the federal government with and got the OCP expedited even faster together,” she said.
Going forward, Squamish and Lil’wat representatives will meet with the province to discuss the community plan.
“We’d like to be adequately consulted and at least try and ensure that some of our concerns are raised in the document,” said Phillips.
The OCP received first and second readings during an Oct. 16 council meeting. A public hearing, which is required before the document can be adopted, is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.
Council has expressed their hope that Whistler’s new OCP will be adopted by the end of the year.
Representatives from the Squamish Nation did not respond to The Question’s repeated requests for comment.