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Chilcotin business owners call out B.C. over lack of compensation

Chilcotin business owners feel left behind in the process of reconciliation, despite their support for the process and the Tsilhqot'in Aboriginal Title decision.
Chilko Lake is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is located within the Tsilhqot'in Title Land.

As Tsilhqot'in communities and leaders were celebrating the 10-year anniversary of being awarded Indigenous title over their traditional territory, some Chilcotin business owners were expressing their frustration.

Not at the title decision itself, or the Tsilhqot'in leaders, who fought so long to have governance over their traditional territory, but frustration at the provincial government, which they say has left their families and businesses behind in the process.

"I'm passionate about reconciliation, I really think it needs to happen," said Doug McMann,  owner of Skinner Creek Hunts in the Chilcotin. "If you believe in reconciliation, everyone needs to kick in, everybody needs to pay their fair share, not destroy four or five lives."

McMann owns one of the small number of Chilcotin businesses, mostly guide outfitters, who had some of their access and land tenure taken away after the 2014 title decision came down.

Nathan Cullen, Minister of Water, Land, and Resource Stewardship said the Supreme Court judgement, which resulted in the first declaration of Aboriginal title in Canadian history, highlights the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s ongoing journey of self-determination and self-governance. 

“But, it must be acknowledged that the way title was decided — through the courts —left many complex legal and practical questions unresolved,” noted Cullen. 

“That’s exactly what we’ve been working to move out of the courts and sit-down together as neighbours, to address shared needs and come out stronger together." But Cullen acknowledged the work is challenging to sort through the implications. 

While he said he could not comment on the specifics of the concerns around the Guide Territory Certificates while it is before the courts, Cullen did say the province is continuing to work on supporting Tsilhqot’in acquisition of lands or businesses. 

McMann said he has been losing money every year since also losing access to the best of his hunting territory six years ago. While he has been trying to sell his house and property, he believes people are afraid of purchasing next to title land.

Karen McLean of Tsylos Park Lodge is another business owner impacted. Her family has been in Nemiah Valley since 1957. 

"We don't really have a voice," she said. While her niece had show interest in becoming involved and possibly taking over the business, McLean said she wouldn't want her to have to deal with the uncertainty. As territory certificates are up in the air, she said the lodge cannot book very far in advance or plan for business improvements when the business may not be there.

"It's very stressful," said McLean.

She said she is very grateful to Xeni Gwet'in for all they have done to protect the area, and she supports their work to regain stewardship of the land.

"They worked so hard for that, I'm happy for them," she said. "Reconciliation has to happen, but everybody should move forward together."

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson attended a meeting with the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. on June 27 and said bankruptcy is a real fear for some of the business owners.

"The frustration, frankly, is absolutely appropriate," said Doerkson, echoing McMann and McLean's support for reconciliation.

Last week the Tsilhqot’in Nation hosted a celebration at Xeni Gwet’in with leaders and members to celebrate the landmark decision on Indigenous title which included a visit from the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau.

Ruth Lloyd

About the Author: Ruth Lloyd

I moved back to my hometown of Williams Lake after living away and joined the amazing team at the Williams Lake Tribune in 2021.
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