Forum lays common ground

The Lake Cowichan First Nation and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have laid the foundation for what both

The Lake Cowichan First Nation and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have laid the foundation for what both groups hope will be a healthy future working relationship.

“I think it’s important to have relationships with your [regional] counterparts for the very reason that we all live in the same area,” said Aaron Hamilton, operations manager for the Lake Cowichan First Nation.

“As you progress on any developments — whether it’s economic developments, a stand on land use planning, whether it’s to do with cultural awareness — you want to have that awareness of each other so you know you have support when required.”

On Friday, the First Nation and the CVRD came together for a Community to Community Forum with the goal of identifying their shared values. This process will ultimately contribute to establishing a protocol document later this year on how both groups work together. Such a document will inform new employees, councillors and directors at both organizations.

“More than anything this is just to formalize a process that’s already existed,” said Hamilton.

According to Hamilton, the Lake Cowichan First Nation had been meeting with the CVRD for similar discussions in 2014, but changes in staff put those talks on the back burner.

Brian Carruthers, the CVRD’s chief administrative officer, said while he and Hamilton have since been meeting administratively, they felt it was time to bring together elected officials from the First Nation and the regional district.

“We just felt this was a great opportunity to bring our elected bodies together and for them to get to know each other and for them to start talking as governance bodies,” said Carruthers, noting that there wasn’t one specific issue acting as a catalyst for the forum.

“We’re just fleshing out some opportunities that we could pursue, some mutual interests in terms of parks and economic development opportunities, that kind of thing,” he said.

The CVRD gave a presentation, sharing its strategic plan and priorities and outlining its organizational structure, responsibilities and services. The Lake Cowichan First Nation provided a similar presentation about their own organization and community.

“We just hope both parties leave with a better understanding of each other as to what our goals are,” said Carruthers.

The Community to Community Forum program was first launched in 1997 with the goal of helping local governments and First Nations better connect. It is funded through the Union of British Columbia Municipalities with support from the provincial government.

The Town of Lake Cowichan and the Lake Cowichan First Nation held a Community to Community Forum in 2013. Hamilton attributed what he described as a “strong relationship” between both groups in part to this forum. He said the town and First Nation still meet annually to keep each other up-to-date with any current or forthcoming projects.

“It gives that heads up so you’re not going into [a project] blind,” said Hamilton.