Course:CONS370/Projects/A comparison of Cowichan Tribes' community forestry agreement against criteria and indicators of Indigenous forest management in Canada
|Province/Prefecture: British Columbia|
This conservation resource was created by Noah Bettauer; Nick Somers; Serena Sturton..
This case study covers the Cowichan Tribes First Nation located on the south eastern side of Vancouver Island in the Duncan area. It examines the Community Forestry Agreement (CFA) owned by Cowichan Tribes and compares it against criteria and indicators for effective and sustainable Indigenous Forestry throughout Canada. The CFA tenure has presented an important opportunity for Cowichan Tribes to gain influence and decision making power over their affairs on traditionally occupied land. Fair and effective decision making, social sustainability, and ecological stewardship are largely achieved within the objectives of both the CFA program, and the Cowichan Tribes' Forestry Company - Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership. That being said, the tenure size is small and is still largely determined by a Provincial Government framework. Power analysis shows that CFAs are an effective step forward in transferring rights to Indigenous Peoples, yet still have a long way to go in promoting full autonomy and self-sufficiency for Indigenous communities. Expanding the size of tenure, improving the conditions of the CFA, and seeking novel partnerships with outside stakeholders could help improve the Cowichan Tribes' sphere of influence moving forward.
Key words: Cowichan Tribes First Nation, Community Forestry Agreement, Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership, criteria and indicators.
Cowichan Tribes is the single largest First Nation Band in British Columbia with over 4,600 community members and is located on the south eastern side of Vancouver Island in what is now known as the Duncan area. Their traditional territory is 376,308 ha in size but after the arrival of settlers and the implementation of the Indian Act, the area was divided up into nine reserves totalling about 2,400 ha. Cowichan Tribes is made up of seven traditional villages and is part of the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group, which is currently on Stage 4 of negotiating a modern day treaty with the B.C. Provincial and Canadian Federal governments. Furthermore, Cowichan Tribes owns Khowutzun Development Corporation (KDC) - a group of companies operating outside of Duncan, B.C. that includes the Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership. Prior to European contact, the Cowichan Tribes First Nation was the sole occupier of the area and had their own governance structures and laws. In 1939, power and governance held by the Cowichan Tribes Hereditary Chiefs over Cowichan affairs was stripped away and taken control by the Canadian government. Currently, the Government of Canada holds legal title over Cowichan Tribes reserves, while the Provincial government holds legal power in decision-making regarding the remainder of their traditional territory.
Community Forestry Agreements (CFA) are an effort made by the B.C. Provincial Government to give Indigenous communities in the province an opportunity to manage their local forests in ways that works for them, while also generating economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits for their communities. The Cowichan Tribes have a CFA through the Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership, giving them an opportunity to participate in the forest industry, apply their sustainable forest management practices, and bring widespread economic benefit. Furthermore, they are given the flexibility to improve the ecological health, timber yields and cultural value of their local community forests, which is located beside Cowichan River Provincial Park just east of Skutz Falls.
In this case study we analyze the Cowichan Tribes' CFA against criteria and indicators (C&I) of Indigenous forest management in Canada, discovering where certain areas of the tenure have been successful, as well as areas where improvements can be made. We will breakdown the various stakeholders involved, the level of power each party holds and make suggestions on how the Cowichan Tribes' CFA can improve in upholding the C&I standards that are upheld elsewhere in the country.
In November 2013, the Cowichan Tribes First Nation was issued a CFA through their company Khowutzun Forest Services (KFS). CFA licenses operate on public/crown forest land and are designed for local governments, community groups, or in this case, First Nations. They are area-based tenures that provide rights for timber harvest as well as the right to manage non-timber forest products, all within a defined boundary. Ownership of CFAs belong exclusively to the communities they are issued too, meaning the license cannot be sold to third party institutions/organizations. Furthermore, all benefits derived from the agreement’s activities must stay within the sphere of the community (i.e., profits cannot benefit distant shareholders).
In many ways, the level of exclusivity provided by CFAs is consistent with certain C&I that have been developed to describe effective Indigenous forest management. For example, the C&I framework created by B.C.’s Tl’azt’en First Nation asserts that fair and effective decision making (their first core criteria) is achieved when there is transfer of management power to local level institutions. Additionally, it describes how traditional knowledge, beliefs, and values must be incorporated into the structural autonomy of an Indigenous community’s forest activities. This is also recognized by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in their C&I devoted to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, which highlights the importance of effective decision-making control over forest management. Notably, the CFA tenure operates on a relatively long timeframe of 25 years, with license replacement available after every 10. This too can be argued as an indicator of effective management, as the Tl’azt’en First Nation has emphasized that long term tenure/rights to forest access and use are often necessary for undergoing traditional practices. Along with these criteria and indicators, there are a number of other characteristics of CFAs that uniquely benefit their holders. For example, those who manage the license, along with its various operations, must annually communicate their plans and objectives to their wider community in order to promote collective participation and engagement. CFA holders develop a management plan that contains the social, economic, and resource management goals of their tenure, which is then reported at meetings with local residents. In addition, the management model of CFAs allows communities to obtain social licenses to undertake activities in sensitive or constrained areas (e.g., watersheds, riparian areas, unstable terrain, archaeological areas, etc.), while also allowing them to pay a unique, tabular-rate stumpage fee that is designed for their particular objectives and needs.
While the CFA tenure does provide the Cowichan Tribes a degree of autonomy over their forestry practices, the Khowutzun Forest Services company still must adhere to both the Forest Act and Forest Range Practices Act that outline the regulations by which all forestry and resource-based activities must abide to in the province. This includes annual rent/fees, cutting permits, cut control administration, road tenure administration, etc. As a CFA, Khowutzun Forest Services must also provide an official License Document and Management Plan that outlines the community’s goals. Finally, it is worth mentioning that KFS operates on a total of 1,786 ha and has an annual allowable cut of 10,000m3, representing the third smallest CFA in the province by area and the sixth smallest in scale. It can be argued that this negates the fourth C&I principle of the Tl’azt’en framework, which mentions how adequate size in tenure is necessary to accommodate the cultural practices of many Indigenous Peoples (e.g., trap lines, hunting areas, fishing sites, etc.). Perhaps most importantly, one must also consider that the operations of Khowutzun Forest Services occur on the traditional territory of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation, which as mentioned, comprises a total of 376,308 hectares. In other words, the Cowichan people have exclusive forest management access on roughly 0.5% of their traditional lands.
In the case of Cowichan Tribes, the institution representing Indigenous forestry interests is Khowutzun Forest Services, which as discussed, is a company created and run by the Cowichan Tribes' members. The Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership agreement itself aims to provide traditional forest management planning, GIS mapping and fire suppression, among other services to the entirety of the CFA's territory. Furthermore, the current legal structure of who owns this limited partnership license is the KFS, who partake in consultation with Cowichan Tribes' members, including most notably, the Chief, Band Manager, and a councillor. In the future, the Cowichan Tribes will have a board with three non-elected officials, three members of the business community, as well as a financial officer. These future roles will be very important for judging the effectiveness of integrating Indigenous Peoples into a system where codified law and traditional practices see eye to eye.
The other major administrative arrangement is through the Provincial Government. Since the early 1990’s, there has been a movement towards community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) which de-centralizes the authority of forest resources and management to local communities. These types of agreements were solidified in law in 2004 when CFAs were permanently implemented, after the successes of a 1998 temporary pilot project. Throughout the last two decades, there has been a major effort on the Provincial Government’s part to reconcile their relationship with Indigenous communities, which is what led to the formation of notable C&I of sustainable management in 2003. It is worth noting that in the opinion of many Indigenous Peoples in B.C., regaining control over customary territory allows their communities to receive the benefits from their forests that are essential to ancestral culture. The eventual goal for many Indigenous communities is to have a system where they can manage their affairs independently or through an equitable, collaborative process.
In terms of specific administrative rules, the Cowichan’s CFA functions as a Limited Partnership. Limited Partnership agreements are established when there are one or more general and limited partners involved, in this case, KFS and Cowichan Tribes. These partnerships are also considered to be formal agreements which require all partners present in order to be established. As previously mentioned, in B.C., forest tenures give exclusive rights to the holder or group concerned, which allows CFAs to function regardless of geographical area or instance. Besides the initial rules of the Agreement, there are objectives that must be met on an ongoing basis, specifically on the KFS side. For the CFA itself, the Provincial Government made sure that the Cowichan Tribes and KFS understood the obligations of the agreement and that they had the capacity, power, and authority to complete its requirements. Through these extensive legislative measures, both parties came to an understanding that recognized their objectives and outlined their protection against any systematic breakdowns during the active management phase.
In this case study, there are social actors, rights-holders and various other stakeholders who have power with a differing, yet interwoven history on the land. First and foremost, the difference between rights-holders and stakeholders is that rights holders have ancestral linkage to to a specific territory that goes beyond the establishment of current settlement. In comparison, stakeholders may be interested or affected by activities on the area of interest, but do not necessarily have long standing histories with it. The major rights-holder in this case is the Cowichan People, who having lived in their territory since time immemorial (dating back at least 9,000 years), have rights and needs that are very important to consider. The Cowichan Peoples are also classified as affected stakeholders because their livelihoods and culture are dependent upon their forest resources and lived connection with the land respectively. The land is paramount to who the Cowichan Peoples are because of ancestral, spiritual or subsistence reasons that have been recognized through their customary practices. For this reason, they not only demand a massive stake in decisions regarding the forest, but are also more subject to and at risk than anyone else in regards to outside stakeholder activities.
In recent years, the Cowichan Tribes designed and formed the Khowutzun Forest Services Limited Partnership, with the purpose of giving their members the opportunity to participate in the forestry industry. Furthermore, Khowutzun Forest Services ensures that under their stewardship, the traditional, cultural and environmental values of the Cowichan peoples are not only maintained, but enhanced. This way of living symbiotically with the land is culturally significant to all Indigenous Peoples in British Columbia and is why the “inclusion of aboriginal communities in the process and approach of forest resource development is pivotal to accomplish sustainable forest resource development." One of the main objectives of the Community Forest Indicators is enhancing forest stewardship, and the Cowichan and KFS together are gradually increasing the livelihoods of the people in their communities so they can ultimately manage their local forests in their own way. As previously mentioned, KFS, having been involved in the power devolution process, meets many of the criteria of fair decision making power, allowing KFS to educate the next generation of Cowichan Peoples in a traditional manner.
Finally, it is important to understand where the power lies in these agreements. Due to B.C. not having a history of legal territorial treaties, there have been many land disputes over rightful claims to territory throughout the history of colonization. Settler colonial power means the B.C. Provincial Government holds authority when it comes to matters regarding crown land - something that is very apparent in the relations between Cowichan Tribes and the Provincial government. Certain portions of their treaty negotiation process in such as “[n]o response from Cowichan Tribes in the time provided results in the Government of B.C. going forward with their plan of operations" suggests that power is still far from equal and without consequence for the Cowichan Tribe. While the Cowichan People are fully encouraged and able to review the perceived risks and impacts to their territory, they are not the ones bringing the initial proposals to the table. Instead, it is the government coming up with strategies that they believe the community may want to incorporate. Also, both parties are expected to meet throughout the calendar year to allow for opportunities to “voice concerns regarding upcoming decisions” as well as for the Cowichan Tribes to be included in the Public Supply Timber Reviews, which determines the annual allowable cut that can occur on their traditional territory. Lastly, when it comes to CFAs, there is still work to do in the devolution process. Despite the Provincial Governments efforts, CFAs aren't giving communities total authority and power of their traditional territory, instead keeping them similar to area-based Tree Farm Licenses. There is still a long way to go before the Government and Indigenous communities share equal power in codified law that represents the views and wishes of Indigenous Peoples in B.C.
This case study has a number of social actors and, as mentioned in the previous section, they can be divided into two categories of stakeholders. This section will delve into the interested stakeholders involved in the Cowichan Tribes' CFA and those outside the community with vested interest in the forest management of Cowichan Tribes' community forest tenure. The major interested stakeholders are the Provincial Government of British Columbia, British Columbia Community Forest Association (BCCFA), companies working with KFS such as Copcan Civil Limited and potential forest certification schemes, specifically the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Through analysis of the legal documents of revenue sharing agreements, forest tenure, and CFAs in British Columbia, it is clear that the Government of British Columbia plays a key role in both making and fulfilling agreements with Cowichan Tribes. The Provincial government holds the power and authority to approve CFAs and has the ability to terminate or pause the agreements after giving written notice. It is important to note that 95% of the land in British Columbia is Provincially managed under a system of forestry licenses which lay out the rights and obligations that come with managing provincially owned timber. This means that the Province of B.C. maintains the ability to make decisions on items such as annual allowable cut in community forests. The revenue sharing agreement between Cowichan Tribes and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia lays out the basis for which the Government of British Columbia will make annual payments to the Cowichan Tribes. The agreement also lays out the ability for the Province to withhold money, while providing due notice, if Cowichan Tribes are not upholding their end of the agreement. Additionally, the Province solely holds the power to suspend or pause the agreement. In order for the Provincial government to be able to revoke payments and request to be repaid the one-time payment amount to the Cowichan Tribes (essentially the grounds to terminate the agreement), they have to notify Cowichan Tribes ahead of time and give them reasonable opportunity to rectify their “non-compliance." The Province also reserves the right to go ahead with their plan of operations if Cowichan Tribes do not respond in the time given. As an interested stakeholder, the Government of British Columbia documents and notifies Cowichan Tribes on how they have considered and addressed their concerns, as well as the steps they took to rectify the issues raised by Cowichan Tribes. The government keeps Cowichan Tribes informed annually with their plans of operation or potential decisions for the upcoming year, as well as keeps them updated throughout the year with new plans that develop. Any concern that is raised by the Cowichan Tribes that is not fulfilled by compensation in the form of revenue sharing will be addressed in a timely fashion and sought to be resolved by the provincial government.
Furthermore, the BCCFA is an interested stakeholder in the process of helping KFS manage their community forest in terms of advocating and being a voice for community forestry in B.C. and working with local and First Nation communities. One of the BCCFA’s guiding principles is “culturally, ecologically, and economically sustainable community forest initiatives in a manner which respects Indigenous rights and cultural values, and which fosters understanding and cooperation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities."
Additional interested stakeholders include logging and contracting companies working with KFS in helping them with certain forest operational practices within their community forest. One example is Copcan Civil Limited which is a contracting company that KFS hired to help them with logging and road building, slash piling and debris management, as well as for machine rentals. Copcan Civil Ltd.’s main objective is fulfilling the job they have been hired to do in the best way possible so they will continue to be hired and maintain their long-standing positive reputation in the community. In this case, the company assists KFS with forest practices according to what KFS deems as aligning and meeting with Indigenous C&I motivated by traditional activities. Copcan Civil Ltd. has low levels of relative power or influence in decisions that affect the Cowichan Tribes' community, making them an interested stakeholder assisting KFS while not being directly affected by the decisions made or activities done in this area.
It is also important to mention the potential for interested stakeholders in the future in the form of forest certification schemes, a large one being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. In light of the possibility for forest certifications to enhance and improve Cowichan Tribes' CFA and forestry operations on their community forest, we cannot neglect the important role that forest certification companies might play as interested stakeholders helping Cowichan Tribes meet C&I of forest management in their current community forest area. The FSC certification company is quite strict in its criteria for certification and has built a high reputation and credibility globally. FSC certification company can offer many benefits to Cowichan Tribes, as we have seen in the case of Mistik Management in Saskatchewan, as one of their main objectives is to improve the livelihoods of Indigenous communities, whether that is through improving their relations with the forestry industry, bringing economic benefits to the community or helping them gain increased control over forest management of their local forests which would be most advantageous for Cowichan Tribes to expand the forest area they manage.
CFAs strive to accommodate the unique management strategies of all First Nations in the province through helping communities generate economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits in ways that recognize their diverse local contexts. This is achieved through job creation, education opportunities, recreation, ecosystem restoration, local organization building, etc. For example, the primary objective of KFS is to allow members of the Cowichan Tribes First Nation to participate in the forestry industry and receive direct economic benefits from harvesting activities. The company provides jobs through forest management, silviculture, and timber harvesting, while also promoting capacity building and management expertise to the larger Cowichan Tribes' community.
When it comes to criteria and indicators for effective Indigenous Forestry, capacity building is where the CFA tenure is at its strongest. CFAs as a whole often drive community development through dividends, grants, infrastructure improvements, special projects, etc. Moreover, contributions that CFAs make to their communities can help initiate or grow projects that go on to further perpetuate local benefits. This strongly aligns with criteria and indicators for social sustainability, in which capacity development through relationship building, increased financial security, and access to education/training are at the forefront of community well-being. Capacity objectives also tie in nicely with the Tl’azt’en Nation’s indicators for economic sustainability, as well as those developed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), both of which noting the necessity for locally rooted contexts, effective economic development, and subsistence land use. For KFS – who pride themselves on being heavily involved with the Cowichan Tribes' community – this is achieved through company sponsored charity events, hosted community events, educational bursaries, etc. Furthermore, KFS provides a firefighting service, runs certified safety training under the B.C. Forest Safety Council, and provides a number of programs in power saw operations, first aid, and pesticide application.
Another priority of the CFA program is to promote enhanced forest stewardship and conservation planning. The area-based design of the CFA tenure incentivizes and allows for long-term, resilience-based management that invests in the future health of forest ecosystems. Community Forests often adopt advanced silviculture practices that go above and beyond legal requirements in order to meet a multitude of values. KFS in particular describes their management practices as promoting ecological health and resilience through silviculture approaches that decrease forest susceptibility to fire, disease, and insect outbreaks. Additionally, their plans accommodate wildlife habitats, cultural values, and recreation, while still striving to provide strong timber yields. KFS is also committed to undergoing activities that retain the traditional, cultural, and environmental values of the Cowichan people, who originally managed their forests using a variety of practices, including controlled burnings, tree felling, and bark stripping. With this in mind, KFS is able to effectively integrate strong economic principles with a deep respect for their own culture and heritage.
Notably, these stewardship goals embraced by community forests are largely consistent with three major criteria for effective Indigenous forestry, those being increased management effectiveness, ecological sustainability, and (once again) social sustainability. Ecological sustainability requires strong retention of ecosystem function and species diversity through habitat protection, water quality, species conservation, etc. Meanwhile, social sustainability demands the incorporation of spiritual connection, heritage values, and cultural meaning in congruence with economic viability. It is worth mentioning that this also aligns with C&I developed by both the CCFM and FSC, who mention the importance of protecting traditional practices, heritage, and culturally significant areas. Finally, indicators for increased management effectiveness include the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge into forestry practices, holistic policies that respect Indigenous rights, and a traditional land ethic that is at the core for resource and community development.
It is important to be aware of who holds the power in these types of agreements in terms of who has the authority of giving and withholding funds, who is authorizing the agreements, who is proposing forest operation plans and who is consulting or paying compensation for forest resource development activities on the traditional territory of the Cowichan Tribes.
As mentioned previously, the CFA tenure arrangement strives to transfer forest management rights down to the community level, and indeed for the Cowichan Tribes First Nation this is to some extent true; Khowutzun Forest Services is given the flexibility to manage their forests based off their unique cultural, spiritual, and ecological values.. However, with CFAs, a substantial amount of power still resides in the hands of the Provincial government and it can be argued that a meaningful devolution of power has yet to be seen. The Tl’azt’en First Nation’s C&I framework stresses that community independence and self-sufficiency is vital for Indigenous Peoples to receive fair and effective decision-making authority. Under the CFA tenure however, true autonomy is debatable given the underlying provincial framework that KFS, and others, must operate with. Despite managing their forests on traditional Cowichan territory, KFS is required to adhere to the Forest Act and Forest Range Practices Act, suggesting that a degree of power asymmetry with the provincial government continues to exist. B.C. and all the Provinces or Territory in Canada have unresolved land claims, the government still holds power over final decisions. This essentially maintains the power structure that has existed over the land since settler colonial history began, using compensation in the form of revenue sharing rather than fully forming a treaty or affirmation of Indigenous rights or title to the land. From all the provided evidence, these agreements are still very much focused or made on the terms of the Provincial government. It is also key to note that the way in which the Cowichan Tribes and Government of B.C. agreed upon to resolve issues or disputes is through negotiation rather than litigation.
Worldwide, legislative mandates are increasingly recognizing the rights and objectives of Indigenous Peoples, specifically regarding the active management of their forests and traditional territories. CFAs for example are seen as a necessary step forward for B.C. in providing Indigenous communities with the rights to manage their forests effectively and sustainably. That being said, there are a number of steps that can be taken to allow for the Cowichan Tribes First Nation to gain further autonomy and influence over their traditionally occupied lands. First and foremost, the tenure owned by KFS is relatively small in both size and scale, greatly limiting the degree to which their operations provide community benefits. In order for the Cowichan Tribes to gain increased decision-making power over their forests, we recommend expanding the boundaries of their CFA. A larger tenure would allow for more decision-making authority, further economic sustainability, and more opportunity for community involvement, all three of which being C&I for effective Indigenous Forestry. While it is unknown whether or not KFS has attempted to expand their tenure, the provincial government does provide an extensive guideline on the application process for potential CFA reworking and expansion.
Additionally, we suggest further work towards the devolution of CFAs in B.C. This is in order for Cowichan Tribes to have more meaningful participation in decision-making regarding the use and management of their community forest. Devolving CFAs means shifting the power and authority away from the central government, in this case the Government of B.C., towards local communities for their benefits. C&I for example, created by the Tl’azt’en First Nation, stressed the importance of fair and effective decision-making which involves the transfer of power and control to local level communities to incorporate traditional knowledge into management processes to allow them to effectively be more sustainable. CFAs are a good start but are still quite limited in terms of giving Indigenous communities the exclusive ability to manage their community forest, as the B.C. government still maintains the authority to determine how communities will go about decision-making, how they operate, and they have the final say. Devolution in many ways starts with giving back responsibility and title of the land to Cowichan Tribes.
Another suggestion of ours is that KFS seeks more partnerships and continues to emphasize community development. One of the indicators for fair and effective decision making is community capacity for partnership building and cross-cultural collaboration, something that is perhaps best achieved by Mistik Management – an industrial-scale, Indigenous-led forestry company located in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. For Mistik Management, relationship building is seen as the driver of success, as the company is partnered with a variety of stakeholders, including a multi-national forest products company, a forest certification company, local community businesses, and various universities. Furthermore, the company manages their partnerships by undergoing extensive participation and consultation mechanisms that promote human relationships and overall effective communication. In order to substantially expand their sphere of influence and receive the resources to enhance their operations, KFS may benefit from adopting some of these characteristics. Specifically, KFS could consider applying for certification of their products in order to receive greater recognition for their forest stewardship, as well as to gain access to niche markets for their products. In addition, we recommend that they continue to collaborate with local companies/businesses inside and outside of the Cowichan Tribes' community.
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