B.C. government reps were a no-show for this week’s online forum of All Nations Chiefs to initiate dialogue on the cannabis distribution question.
“It was disappointing but also somewhat expected,” said Darwin Douglas, All Nations Cannabis CEO, and Cheam First Nation councillor.
Premier John Horgan and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had been invited to a Dec. 2 virtual roundtable with All Nations Chiefs to discuss a path towards self-determination through legal cannabis distribution.
While the provincial government reps opted not to participate in the event, the Indigenous leaders will still carry on.
“Today, we remain on the fringes of an industry that we should have the equal right to participate in,” Douglas said. “Our rights are not recognized on our reserves, segregating our communities from creating a livelihood and fighting poverty.”
It’s not special treatment they’re asking for but recognition, and a licensed agreement with B.C. to distribute cannabis, he said.
“All Nations Chiefs” is a consortium of Indigenous leaders from Shxwa:y’ First Nation, Cheam First Nation, Soowahlie First Nation and Sq’ewlets First Nation.
The group organized the Dec. 2 forum to secure government guidance and support to enter the industry as legal distributors, with a licensing proposal ready for discussion, based on the Williams Lake Indian Band model.
“We needed government to come to the table to help us understand how to legally participate so we brought the table to them with this event, we even set the table with our licensing proposal, but they still didn’t come,” Douglas underlined.
The Progress sent out a media query to find out why provincial reps did not attend the Dec. 2 All Nations Chiefs forum.
A “background” statement from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General’s office did not answer that question directly. The following statement was sent from the ministry by email:
“The Province is committed to supporting Indigenous participation in the emerging legal cannabis industry and always willing to sit down with Indigenous Nations to talk about opportunities.
”We recognize that some Indigenous Nations may have differing views with respect to jurisdictional responsibilities outlined in federal cannabis legislation, and are committed to understanding these perspectives.
The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act does allow the province to enter “government-to-government agreements” with First Nations to address “unique, community-specific interests” regarding cannabis, the statement continued, citing the province’s first cannabis agreement with the Williams Lake First Nation in September.
”The Province is actively working with a number of Nations that have expressed interest in similar agreements.”
Douglas said the main issue is that they’ve identified cannabis as a crucial economic driver, and it’s an opportunity they can’t afford to miss out on.
“The time has come to move beyond nicely worded commitments and present real examples of government support for reconciliation,” said Douglas said.
One issue is that the province itself is a competitive force in the industry.
“One of the things that has become clear as First Nations try to establish a foothold economically in this legal market is that the provincial government is in a conflict position,” Douglas said, as the province controls the cannabis supply.
“They are the biggest player. So we are asking ourselves how can we negotiate with the competition?”
The group may consider going back to the federal arena. But they are still hoping for successful future negotiations with B.C.
Douglas concluded: “On behalf of Cheam First Nation, Shxwa:y’ First Nation, Soowahlie First Nation and Sq’ewlets First Nation, we invite Premier Horgan to consider the implications of their failure to engage.
“We invite them to live up to their commitments and to set a table for this important discussion with our communities.
“Together, we can cross this hurdle and continue on the path to reconciliation.”
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