"First Nations First": Understanding the Status of Aboriginal Involvement in British Columbia's Community Forests

Sean G. O'Donnell, University of Massachusetts Amherst



In 2014, the legal landscape shifted in British Columbia with the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia. The case resulted in a recognition of Aboriginal title, and real and substantial Aboriginal authority over large tracts of land in the province. According to legal analysts, the most significant element is the requirement for stronger consultation with First Nations and – in many cases – consent that needs to be pursued by the province’s resource extraction industries prior to development. British Columbia’s community forest sector is unlikely to be immune to this shift. A baseline for First Nations involvement in community forestry – both in terms of breadth and depth – has not yet been established. While Tsilhqot’in is expected to dramatically impact stakeholder engagement, to what degree and in which locales this change will occur is not well known. Through a series of semi-formal interviews conducted with people in a leadership position in 19 of the province’s community forests, this paper establishes this baseline, as well as considers the potential impact of the Tsilhqot’in decision for the province’s community forest sector.