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Agricultural Land Commission ruling blocks plans for Indigenous treatment centre

Carrier Sekani Family Services Board President and Chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Corrina Leween.

Carrier Sekani Family Services is disappointed in an Agricultural Land Commission decision that has halted the agency’s plans for treatment facility at Tachick Lake Resort.

On February 25, the commission’s north panel denied the agency’s application for a non-farm use exemption at the property near Vanderhoof. The resort has been used as a commercial lodge and campground since the 1960s. Carrier Sekani Family Services chose the site for a healing centre after years of searching for a location.

The proposed 25,000-square-foot treatment centre would serve local Indigenous people from a medically-based service delivery model that is grounded in Carrier Sekani healing and land-based wellness practice.

“The services to be offered in this facility will work to begin to address some of the alarming rates of harm being endured by Indigenous people in our home communities,” said Corrina Leween Carrier Sekani Family Services Board President and Chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. “The data is clear – Indigenous people are being affected by the opioid crisis at a higher rate, with recent statistics showing that First Nations are dying from overdose at a rate of more than five times higher than other B.C. residents.”

The panel, however, ruled that “while the panel appreciates the social benefits of the proposal, the panel must consider the mandate of the Commission … to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming on agricultural land.”

It did offer a compromise, saying Carrier Sekani Family Services could use the existing buildings on the property, as those have been non-farm use for quite some time, rather than build a new one, which would include a 20-bay parking lot.

That, however, is not workable for Carrier Sekani Family Services.

“Carrier Sekani Family Services has waited more than 25 years for the full support needed to develop a quality treatment and healing facility – no further delay should be endured,” she said.

While the commission’s mandate is to preserve agricultural land, the act allows for exemptions, said Leween, adding that when the commission interprets its mandate in light of the the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an exemption that allows for the provision of essential health care for First Nations in a manner that respects First Nations cultures and land-based healing practices is appropriate.

She added that while the agency has spent a lot of time and effort on this proposal, it still lacks the funding it needs and is calling on all levels of government to “come up with ways to make this project happen.”

Carrier Sekani Family Services has entered into discussions with Victoria regarding a partnership for the project, which includes an initial dedication of $5.7 million in funding provided by the First Nations Health Authority. This initial funding does not meet the total project costs estimated at $16 million. Talks are underway between CSFS, provincial and federal officials including the First Nations Health Authority around the funding shortfall.

Carrier Sekani Family Services serves a predominantly Indigenous clientele from local Carrier and Sekani Nations. This project is extremely important to removing barriers to health services and making progress toward fundamental objectives of improved health and wellbeing for Indigenous peoples, said Warner Adam, Carrier Sekani Family Services CEO.

“Part of our treatment model includes agriculture activities, whereby patients will learn gardening through building and maintaining a community garden, and a traditional food processing unit,” he said. “Local elders will be brought in to assist in therapeutic counselling during food security activities to compliment the medically based treatment model.”

Transitioning back into their communities without the added challenges of significant geographical distance is important to ongoing health and wellness, he added.

 

 

Dedicated financial and political support is critical for this essential Centre

to proceed.

CSFS emphasizes that the organization has a positive relationship with federal and provincial

government leadership. Dedicated financial and political support is critical for this essential Healing

Centre to proceed. CSFS looks forward to working in collaboration to achieve long-term goals of

addressing the ongoing opioid and mental health crises that are disproportionately affecting our

communities, and improving Indigenous health in British Columbia.

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