The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is working to upgrade Trans-Canada Highway to 4 lanes from the interior of BC to the Alberta border. Portions of this project traverse the Neskonlith Indian Band (Neskonlith) territory (approximately $250 million construction value).
The purpose of this project was to facilitate meaningful engagement and consultation with the community. Two main processes/objectives needed to be accomplished:
Neskonlith Community members from the Youth to Elders, both on and off reserve.
The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure had been trying to develop the “on reserve” designs for 16 years with virtually zero progress.
This was due almost entirely to a huge mistrust that this indigenous community (like others) have with the Canadian government. This has been fostered over years and years of trauma and mistreatment inflected through such atrocities as residential schools and systemic racism.
This project was founded in an extremely innovative and unique approach: Instead of Neskonlith conforming to the governments (Provincial and Federal) processes – the interaction was turned 180 degrees – the Provincial and Federal governments would instead go through Neskonlith’s process.
By doing so, we were able to empower the community and take ownership of the process. Through this journey, there was an opportunity for all parties to come together, learn from each other and walk away with a better, more meaningful outcome.
This was technically challenging because there were a number of key “check boxes” required by both the Province and the Federal government (designing a highway and navigating the Indian Act is complex).
To achieve this – first we needed to establish what Neskonlith’s process was. This started by engaging The Tk’wem7íple7s re qelmúcw (Chief and Council) who made it clear from the onset of this project that it was important to integrate culture, language and tradition into the project.
This started through Tsk̓elél̕nemstcwes re stet̕ex7ém (listening to the Elders). This was accomplished through the formation of an Elder Working Committee which held regular meetings, along with background research of Secwépemc tradition and law. Whenever possible Secwépemctsín words, phrases and processes were included in project material.
Tsk’elé ‘em (listening to people) Engagement Summary:
From zero progress or support historically over 16 years to 92% community support for the project after this engagement campaign.
In my opinion this project is the embodiment of the definition of Sustainability offered for this award submission.
This project has challenged the way the Provincial and Federal government approach an indigenous community. It is about respecting and learning from each other. It is about changing the way things have happened in the past to build a better future for everyone.
Links to Project Videos: