First Nation voices opposing E&N railway revival growing

First Nation voices opposing E&N railway revival growing
Part of the E&N rail corridor on Vancouver Island.

The future of the rail service on Vancouver Island may be becoming more uncertain. Five First Nation members of the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) board have quit, less than two weeks before a court-imposed deadline for a decision on whether rail will be restored on the 295-kilometre corridor.

“We no longer see a role for ourselves in an organization that sticks its fingers in their ears to a First Nations’ engagement report, then sticks its hand out to government for a billion dollars,” the five First Nation members who resigned from the ICF said in a joint statement.

“As a starting point, we call on Canada and British Columbia to make it clear that they will not support the continuation of an uneconomical railway that will waste public goods and continue to harm the potential of First Nations on Vancouver Island.”

The ICF is a non-profit that has advocated for the return of the train line since the early 2000s.

Those who resigned from the ICF are Aaron Hamilton of the Ts’uubaa-asatx Nation at Lake Cowichan, Brent Edwards and Chris Bob of Snaw-Naw-As Nation in Nanoose, Tim Harris of the Stz’uminus Nation at Ladysmith, and William Yoachim of the Snuneymuxw Nation in Nanaimo.

The ICF co-chairs Charlene Everson and Aaron Stone told CHEK News in a joint statement that they were saddened five out of six First Nation members of their board had resigned.

“We understand and respect their decision but would have preferred to continue to work through the substantive issues in front of us regarding the future of the corridor, together,” said Everson and Stone.

“We will continue to work with the provincial and federal governments to support the decision-making process while continuing to advocate for the equitable settlement of the historical and contemporary issues presented by First Nations in regards to the rail corridor impacts through their communities and unceded territories.”

READ MORE: Deadline for decision on future of E&N railway on Vancouver Island enters final weeks

A representative for the Halalt First Nation which is situated near the town of Crofton, says the railway which runs through their reserve lands only harms the First Nations of Vancouver Island.

“Halalt believes that [the railway] is contributing to flooding that it’s experiencing yearly,” said Erika Richards, a lawyer representing the Halalt First Nation.

The railway line cuts down the middle of Halalt’s limited reserve land. Richards says Halalt is one of 13 First Nations whose reserves are bisected by the rail line.

“That railway is one symptom of the colonization that continues to have an effect on Halalt every single day,” said Richards.

Halat Nation says federal consultation hasn’t been adequate. The provincial transport minister agrees.

“I do believe that the federal government has been quite passive,” said Rob Fleming, B.C.’s minister of transportation.

Ottawa has a different view.

“Reconciliation is a top priority for our government,” said Nadine Ramadan, a spokesperson for the office of the Minister of Transport. “The province of British Columbia has been engaging with communities, municipal governments, and First Nations on their views for the future of the corridor. The Government of Canada’s decision-making will be informed by the engagement undertaken by the province.”

The question left unanswered is if Halalt’s position and the stance of the former ICF board members affects Ottawa’s decision expected to be handed down by March 14.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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