Deep Bay/Bowser RDN director Bill Veenhof presents Qualicum First Nation chief Michael Recalma with a gift last month after naming Recalma his alternate director — the first time a First Nation chief joined the regional district.

Regional District of Nanaimo considers hiring a First Nations liaison

"The days are gone when we can just reach out to First Nations people — we have to put our money where our mouth is" — Sue Powell

Regional district directors voted to establish a new position at the RDN — a First Nation liaison — who will focus on relationships and

intergovernmental affairs.

Money to fund the position would come from exisiting budget funds and will not affect the 2015 RDN budget, said CAO Paul Thorkelsson.

The motion was passed at Tuesday night’s RDN committee of the whole meeting and still needs to be ratified at the next regular board meeting.

The idea was first brought forward by Deep Bay/Bowser representative Bill Veenhof, who suggested the

“currently funded long range

planning position, recently vacated by Lisa Bhopalsingh, be filled as soon as possible with a focus and priority as First Nation liaison.”

Bhopalsingh was the RDN’s long range planner, who recently stepped down. Thorkelsson said Bhopalsingh, who had work experience and a personal

interest in First

Nations relations, worked on First

Nations projects “off the side of the desk.”

With Bhopalsingh’s departure, Veenhof was hoping to “prioritize” First Nations relations in the long range planner’s work plan.

“We as a board have set high

expectations about our desire and willingness to have collaboration and dialog with the First Nations communities that are embedded within the RDN,” said Veenhof, who

recently named Qualicum First Nation chief Michael Recalma his alternate

director.

“The trouble with that is long range planning

positions are paid by taxes collected to fund long range planning services, not to fund First Nations liaison

positions,” said Thorkelsson.

Thorkelsson suggested creating a part-time position instead, but warned “I’m not 100 per cent sure there’s a full-time position purely in intergovernmental, or specifically First Nations, relations.”

Veenhof’s original motion was

defeated, but it started a dialog about creating a new position of First Nations liaison.

Parksville Coun. Sue Powell, sitting in for Mayor Marc Lefebvre, said she supports the creation of a part-time position.

“The days are gone when we can just reach out to First Nations people — we have to put our money where our mouth is,” said Powell. “There have been recent court decisions regarding treaty rights and economic development. It would be beneficial for the RDN and other municipalities to have someone reach out because there are all kinds of things happening on First Nations territory right now.”

But Nanaimo Coun. Jerry Hong said “a First Nations liaison is important to me but I’m not at the point where I’m interested in hiring new staff … I think we need to get our budget under control for the next five years.”

Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay echoed Hong’s comments.

McKay estimated a part-time

position would cost around $30,000; he also referenced the $30,000 the RDN has committed to purchasing First Nations art work in the 2016 budget.

“Why are we doing this?” he asked the board, noting there are what he considers more pertinent issues to

fund with RDN taxpayers’ money, like solid waste management.

Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime said most directors were in favour of crafting better relations with First Nations communities, but there was no actual job description in front of directors for the First Natiosn liaison position in question.

“We’re creating a position that we don’t have a job description for on the fly because Mrs. Bhopalsingh happened to leave,” said Haime. “We agree it’s a good thing, but let’s focus on what we know about and move forward.”

Director Howard Houle, who represents Gabriola Island, brought forward a motion directing staff to “undertake the establishment of a half time position with a focus on First Nations relationship issues and intergovernmental affairs for 2015.”

The motion was carried and will be ratified at the next RDN meeting.

Late last year, the RDN passed a motion vowing to formally acknowledge First Nations traditional territory.

At that time, Thorkelsson said “it is a true recognition by the RDN board of the important partnerships the RDN is building with First Nations of this region and the important role those partnerships will continue to have going forward.”

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