Official Plan should take First Nation concerns to heart at start

To the Expositor:

The updating of the Official Plan for land use and zoning has been recently launched by the Manitoulin Planning Board. There has been some discussion about the involvement of the First Nations in developing the new Official Plan.

The current Official Plan states that attempts were previously made to include the First Nations within Manitoulin District into the planning process back in 1979, and that the First Nations are to be encouraged and welcomed to join with the rest of Manitoulin for land use planning.

We have many problems in our planet and societies today, Manitoulin included. A poor or mediocre Official Plan could make some of these issues worse, or delay the necessary healings that an excellent Official Plan could achieve. For example, what could this 2012 planning process gain from understanding and incorporating the First Nation’s 7 Grandfathers’ Teachings? Who will ensure that the Planning Board, the Citizens Advisory Group (CAG), and the planning consultant fully understand this and similar concepts and values made available from the First Nations?

When I attended the Mindemoya public meeting for the Official Plan last month, I questioned what the Planning Board was doing to ensure this 1979 Official Plan requirement of involving the First Nations in our future land use planning.

At the Mindemoya meeting, the public was informed that the Manitoulin Planning Board sent a letter to the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) Lands Manager, informing them about the 2012 updating of the Official Plan. Subsequently, a phone call was made to follow-up on the letter. Due to the lukewarm reception or non-response by a few individual in the UCCMM administration, the Planning Board decided that no First Nations would be participating in the 2012 version of the Official Plan. The Planning Board didn’t answer as to whether Wikwemikong was invited, a non-member of UCCMM.

This exclusion of our First Nation neighbours sounds too definite, too soon for my tastes. It is suggested that the Planning Board’s actions are good first steps, but are clearly insufficient to achieve Island-wide unity in land use planning.

The Planning Board informed the province about their letter, phone call, and decision of non-participation by the First Nations. It was then decided that the Province would step-in to help the Planning Board communicate with the First Nations.

To me, it seems premature to abdicate these First Nations liaison responsibilities to the province. If the province fails, or applies only half efforts, it is all of Manitoulin who will suffer from this “house divided.” Since the provincial government has minimal or no direct consequences from the continued exclusion of First Nations in our land use planning process, and the consequences for the rest of Manitoulin are significant, it is suggested that abdication to the province for this matter is ill-advised, and needs reconsideration by the Planning Board.

Fortunately, others have expressed similar concerns with the non-involvement of our First Nations’ neighbours. At the public meeting in Little Current, others raised concerns about no representation by First Nations people on the CAG. I share those concerns. Unfortunately, the Planning Board has decided that it would be inconvenient, or unfair to add additional members to the CAG at this time, even though only two meetings have been held by this group. How is this proposed addition unfair? To whom is it unfair that the First Nations gain representation on the CAG? If one segment of our society is poorly represented, would it have been unfair to put out a second appeal expressly encouraging First Nation members to apply for the CAG?

Did any member of the Planning Board (or any municipal councillor) personally speak with any citizens to inform, remind, or encourage them to apply to be a member of the CAG? Did they do the same for First Nation band members? The answers may indicate if a bias occurred in the CAG recruitment process.

The Planning Board is responsible to ensure the planning process is fair, and that they listen to all voices. How can this listening occur when significant parts of our Island and its citizens are locked out of the room?

If the Planning Board has additional facts to show they have done everything within their power to launch an excellent and unbiased planning process, let them share that information with all citizens today. If not, perhaps the Planning Board should re-consider their planning process for our new Official Plan, and make every reasonable effort to get the First Nations involved now.

Glenn Black

Providence Bay