Tsawwassen First Nation

Referrals in an urban setting

The Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN) is located in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Their traditional territory, as displayed here, encompasses reaches of the Pitt and Fraser River systems, with adjacent land and foreshore, and extends across the Georgia Strait to encompass some of the Gulf Islands.

The general context in which consultation and Crown Land Referrals occur is different in the densely populated and urban interface areas of the Lower Mainland than in rural parts of the province, where forestry tends to be the main issue. In TFN’s territory, much of the land and shoreline have been developed, fee simple ownership predominates, and there exist limited opportunities for traditional pursuits aside from those that are marine based.

The Tsawwassen are consulted on proposols for activities that are to occur along the Fraser River and in coastal lands and waters. Most of the referrals fall within three broad subject areas of classification: environmental, archaeological, and crown land transfers.The TFN's GIS/Resource Analyst handles incoming referrals, doing the necessary research and then either issuing a response as is the case with environmental and archaeological referrals, or passing the referral along to others for additional input, as is the case with most land transfers.

The Tsawwassen have integrated referrals related information into a database that houses their traditional use study (TUS) information, and linked that up to a geographic information system (GIS). The GIS is based on ArcView by ESRI, and the database on Microsoft’s Access software. The two programs are connected by custom programming, developed in the Visual Basic environment. When required, information from project proponents is analyzed and/or mapped with the GIS.

To following case exemplifies how the referrals process works. Transport Canada was planning to allot parcels of land to the City of Surrey for the establishment of a park. The divestiture involved TFN traditional use land, which gave reason for concern, as when Crown land is alienated by way of transfer, it is then unavailable for inclusion in a treaty settlement. TFN specified to the Transport Canada divestiture officer the information that they required to participate in meaningful consultation, explaining their own capacity and requested that all communications be in writing. Detailed geographic information, and a history of ownership for each parcel was requested, including digital files that could be integrated with Tsawwassen’s GIS system.

Their requests were met. TFN was supplied with paper maps, and limited cadastral information. That information was digitized, and overlayed on their TUS information in ArcView. TFN then checked to see if the area is located in, on, or near an 'area of interest' for the Tsawwassen. According to Andrew Bak, the TFN's GIS/Resource Analyst, this procedure is repeated for every referral. Andrew attributed the success in having their requests met to the good relationship that was developed with the Transport Canada personnel that they worked with from Transport Canada, as well as to their investment in research and technology, which demands respect and helps to elicit a response when concerns are raised.

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