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B.C. Minister visits Ktunaxa territory

Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad presents a BC Aboriginal Business Award to Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre at the 2013 Award Gala on Dec. 5.  - Photo courtesy B.C. government
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad presents a BC Aboriginal Business Award to Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre at the 2013 Award Gala on Dec. 5.
— image credit: Photo courtesy B.C. government

John Rustad, B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, was in Cranbrook Friday, Dec. 13 to meet with the Ktunaxa Nation.

Last week, the Ktunaxa and the B.C. government renewed a Strategic Engagement Agreement (SEA) originally signed in 2010.

"(The SEA) really helps us to strengthen our relationship between the province and the First Nation. It allows us to find effective ways to do engagement around things like land use issues and resource development, and in many ways it also helps us to be able to cooperate in decision making around things like stewardship and other development within the traditional territories," Rustad said.

Friday's visit was Rustad's first to Cranbrook since he was appointed to the ministry in June.

"Since I've been appointed to this position, I try to get out and meet with as many of the First Nations as I can on their traditional territory," said Rustad.

He was set to meet with the Ktunaxa in Cranbrook, then travel to Grasmere to visit the Lower Kootenay Band, before travelling to Invermere to meet with the Shuswap Band.

Rustad said that in the Ktunaxa traditional territory, significant impacts are mining and forestry, including the Elk Valley coal mines, and the hydroelectric projects.

"Throughout all of those activities we look to engage with the Ktunaxa in various discussions," said Rustad. "The SEA provides us with a much better tool in terms of how we can engage, how we can do things, and to simplify the process and bring certainty on the land base."

The Ktunaxa Nation and the B.C. government are at loggerheads over Jumbo Glacier Resort. In 2010, the B.C. government approved a Master Development Agreement for the four-season resort west of Invermere. But the Ktunaxa have long opposed the development, saying that it would be built in sacred Ktunaxa territory, Qat'muk, home of the grizzly bear spirit.

Rustad said that the SEA means the B.C. government and First Nation can disagree without affecting their relationship.

"That's one of the reasons why we do enter into these sorts of agreements," said Rustad. "We know that we are not always going to agree on everything.

"Sometimes, if we don't reach agreement, we are able to do that without damaging our ability to do other things together. That's really what true partnership is all about: being able to sit down respectfully, understand one another's concerns, and to be able to work together where we can."

Rustad said the SEA will strengthen the two governments' relationship.

"The Ktunaxa are great people and we've got a strong relationship and I look forward to continuing and building on that relationship," he said.

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