Thank you, Minister Polak.
I would first like to acknowledge the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, whose Traditional Territory we are meeting in.
I am honoured to be here today representing the views of the Kaska Dena Council on this significant agreement.
I would like to thank the Province for hosting this signing ceremony and for providing the opportunity for Kaska Dena and the Province of British Columbia to come together to acknowledge and celebrate the signing of our Strategic Engagement Agreement.
After three years of negotiations, the Kaska Dena Council and the provincial government have achieved an agreement that lays the foundation for both governments to work together.
The Kaska Dena would like to commend the Province in entering into this agreement of shared decision making in order to advance our shared interests in a government to government relationship in an open and respectful manner.
The Kaska Dena Traditional Territory encompasses some 9.8 million hectares, or 10 percent of the province, and is rich in natural resources. All eyes are focused on the North – on our vast traditional lands and our abundant resources.
These outside interests in our lands and resources represent both tremendous opportunity and formidable challenge for Kaska Dena.
The Kaska Dena have been stewards of our territory for thousands of generations and this agreement is a beginning for shared decision-making, consistent with our responsibilities to manage the lands of the Kaska Dena Traditional Territory.
For years, the Kaska communities have had to address resource applications such as mineral exploration without any capacity or funding. It has been an uphill battle where the resource companies and government seemed to always be the ones holding the cards. The courts and legal system were the main leverage point for us.
Through this agreement, this will now change. The Strategic Engagement Agreement will provide, for three years, stable funding and capacity for Kaska communities to engage more efficiently on resource development applications.
Through the Strategic Engagement Agreement, establishment of the natural resource council will provide opportunities for the Kaska Dena to build better relationships with provincial land and resources decision makers. It will also provide the decision makers the opportunities to better understand the Kaska Dena cultural and societal linkages to our fish, wildlife, land and water.
The conservancies, parks and protected area collaborative management framework will support shared management of the recently established Ne’ah conservancy, as well as existing and future protected areas in the Kaska Dena Traditional Territory of British Columbia.
The management and protection of our fish and wildlife is of critical importance. The Kaska Dena have for some time been seeking a forum for shared management decisions and addressing wildlife concerns.
The fish and wildlife collaborative management framework will provide the forum for discussions on regulation changes, access and resident hunting concerns, and setting management priorities each year to be worked on collaboratively.
As major projects or concerns arise by either party, the Natural Resource Council can be the body to bring forward these items for discussion as strategic shared decisions.
Through this government-to-government process for shared decision making, Kaska Dena are now in a position to have a voice, to sit at a common table with the Province and to help shape the future of the North. As well, through this process we can now be contributors to the financial health of this province, as well as to the financial, societal and cultural health of our people.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge both provincial government and Kaska negotiators for their efforts and commitment over the past three years in working together to create this agreement.
It is hoped that at the end of the three years a stronger relationship and understanding by all parties will be achieved and we can continue to advance down this path.
(Dave Porter speaks)
Following Dave Porter, George Miller goes back to the podium to present the eagle carving to Minister Polak:
George Miller’s speech prior to presenting the carving
I would like to preface the presenting of our gift to Minister Polak with a few words about the significance of our gift.
This eagle was carved by Kaska artist, Dennis Shorty. The eagle is a sacred symbol in Kaska culture, representing leadership and strength.
Traditionally, Kaska hunters valued birds of prey for their keen eyesight and respected the vantage point that they have over the land. Kaska hunters knew that by watching and following birds of prey, that they would lead hunters to the moose and caribou.
Our hope is that this eagle will represent both the strong leadership that Kaska and provincial governments must bring to our Strategic Engagement Agreement, as well as our responsibility to remain the stewards of our land.
On behalf of Kaska Dena Council it is my honour, Minister Polak, to present you with this carving.