The B.C. NDP government’s rigid farmland regulations have blocked a proposal by a northern Indigenous community to open a 60-bed culturally appropriate addiction treatment centre.
Carrier Sekani Family Services has offered to buy a remote fishing resort on Tachick Lake near Vanderhoof in July 2020, to fulfill its goal of creating a lakeside healing and treatment facility. Cheslatta Carrier Nation elected chief Corrina Leween, president of the regional tribal council’s family service agency, blasted the decision in a letter to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson that was taken up by the opposition in the B.C. legislature this week.
Leween noted that the lakeside property has been used for a fishing lodge since the 1950s, and the remote land has never been farmed. The proposed healing centre has the support of the First Nations Health Authority and Indigenous Services Canada, the federal agency responsible for reserves. Tachick Lake Resort continues to take bookings for this year as the pending sale is considered.
“The decision fails to uphold your government’s commitments to address the opioid crisis on an urgent basis, to close the systemic gaps in medical and health services for First Nations people in the north, to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, and to honour the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Leween wrote.
It’s not the first time Popham’s crackdown on non-farm uses in B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve has disrupted a treatment facility. In 2019, the Agricultural Land Commission informed the Abbotsford Women’s Centre that it has two years to move, because the large residence used to house up to 10 women in an intensive substance abuse rehab program is also on farmland.
Malcolmson said Monday she met with Leween March 9 to confirm the province will fund such a treatment facility, but the ALC is an independent body with a mandate to protect viable farmland.
“This is not an NDP government decision,” Malcolmson told the B.C. legislature March 15. “I’m working with my counterparts in cabinet. I’ve given my commitment to Chief Corrina Leween that we will pursue this further. Our investment in Carrier Sekani Family Services remains. We are reliant on them as a deliverer of services right now all across B.C.’s northwest.”
Ellis Ross, the former Haisla Nation chief and now the B.C. Liberal MLA for Skeena, said Leween’s letter makes it clear she isn’t interested in the many departments of government doing more consultation. He noted that the record deaths from the opioid overdose crisis is affecting Indigenous people more than the general population.
“She wants to see the talking end,” Ross said. “She wants to see ministers stop referring to their briefing sheets. She wants to see the talk of reconciliation have some real meaning in a time of crisis.”
Premier John Horgan offered to meet with B.C. Liberal interim leader Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, about the issue.