The WLC—as a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote respect for W̱SÁNEĆ culture, traditional practices, and language—works on projects that impact the broader W̱SÁNEĆ territory, benefit all three W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations, and require a unified response.
Why is there a W̱SÁNEĆ Technical Advisory Committee?
The W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council’s Board of Directors is made up of leadership from Tsartlip, Tseycum, and Tsawout. The WLC takes on projects that are out of scope and out of budget for individual Chief and Council and Band operations. These projects are almost always shared or overlapping territories between the W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations involving well-resourced, complex, large organizations such as Parks Canada, the CRD, or the many municipalities that operate within W̱SÁNEĆ territory.
These vast and complicated projects require more time, skill, expertise and in-depth analysis than leadership and WLC employees have on their own. By bringing in members of the community at large, the WLC ensures each document that leaves the office includes the active participation and perspective from the larger community that includes a focus on W̱SÁNEĆ culture and Natural Laws.
Will Morris, a W̱SÁNEĆ Technical Advisory Committee (WTAC) member as well as the Director of Stewardship at Tsartlip, shared:
“Divide and conquer has worked really well. We have had to do so much more with so much less. Each nation’s staff does 2 or 3 jobs per day.”
John Elliott, a WTAC member, teacher, and Elder, shared:
“It’s a ray of hope for me to see the councils working together to plan together, especially on the bigger pieces of work with the government, like with Fisheries and Parks, and speaking about our inherent rights. For me that gives me some hope, that we will have a place in our homelands and territories and have some say in the things our future generations will be facing. That we will remain as W̱SÁNEĆ people to work together and make plans for the future.”
A relatively new member of the Technical Advisory Committee and recently elected Councilman with Tsawout, Donald Williams shares:
“We see the WLC name come up quite a bit; they’re quite involved with a lot of things, a lot of different topics, it’s a pretty big deal to be able to speak on behalf of W̱SÁNEĆ people on various topics.”
Acknowledging the immense responsibility of representing W̱SÁNEĆ people, the WLC has established several advisory committees: the W̱SÁNEĆ Technical Advisory Committee (WTAC), the Language Committee, the Elders Committee, the Environmental Committee, and the Cultural Workers Committee. Also in progress is the establishment of the Youth Committee. These committees assist with achieving the objectives and mandate of leadership by providing invaluable insight, knowledge, and support needed to make important decisions. Ideally, the WTAC committee would consist of equal representation from each W̱SÁNEĆ Community and be gender-equal, although at times this isn’t always possible.
What does the W̱SÁNEĆ Technical Advisory Committee Do?
The role of the WTAC is to synthesize the huge amount of material that flows through the organization (often from colonial organizations), ask clarifying questions, discuss the best route forward based on appropriate cultural protocols, and, finally, to provide recommendations for decision making. In essence, the WTAC helps to provide leadership with the confidence that they are going in the right direction and have the information to back up their decisions.
Once leadership reviews the recommendations of the WTAC, position papers are developed in response to proposed or current colonial activity within W̱SÁNEĆ territory. These papers outline the position of leadership on everything from hunting to airports, outlining the impacts of proposed projects and options for how to move forward.
While the WLC has paid staff that takes the lead on projects, it’s the members of the WTAC that dive deep into the documents, reviewing and analyzing each word for potential impacts on ancestral remains, harvesting, use of SENĆOŦEN, economic opportunities, training, and employment, as well as details on how to educate and manage the presence of settlers in the territory.
Bruce Underwood, a member of the WTAC for 3 years shares:
“Everyone is beyond blaming, we are trying to be constructive in our decision-making to protect our inherent rights in our territories, all the while creating awareness with different levels of government. We are advocating for the protection of land, creeks, streams, and ocean ways. We look at the cultural aspects, given that all the creatures in all the land and in the water are our relatives; this is the perspective we make decisions from. We are also adhering to the SENĆOŦEN law as well as factoring in the laws and bylaws provincially, municipally and federally. What we do is very complex. We’re not just going to meetings.”
What types of projects does the W̱SÁNEĆ Technical Advisory Committee work on?
The projects the WTAC works on have impacts on the daily life of W̱SÁNEĆ people, as well as long-lasting impacts on the land and sea.
An example of one of the projects the TAC is working on is the interim co-management agreement for the Gulf Island National Park Reserve (GINPR), which was formed without W̱SÁNEĆ consent. Another enormous and related project is the review of the feasibility of the proposed National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (NMCAR).
Rob Clifford, a Ph.D. law student, Professor at UBC, and a member of the WTAC shares:
“In the case of the GINPR, we are working on how to get W̱SÁNEĆ decision-making in there after the fact. WLC has been in discussions with Parks Canada on how that process went wrong. We’re trying to restore W̱SÁNEĆ jurisdiction and authority.”
Other projects involve working with Provincial Parks, Parks Canada, and neighbouring Nations with the aim of creating understanding, unity, and cross-cultural awareness.
“The way it works is that there are various people who are hired on at the WLC. Each employee has a different portfolio or projects they are the lead on. The WTAC is split up into subcommittees to help the staff manage each of the projects. Ultimately, the leadership is the ones that make the final decisions. We are still working on having Paqauauchin come in because the issues that come through are relevant to all W̱SÁNEĆ, not just specific bands.”
Who is involved in the Technical Advisory Committee?
Current WTAC members are nominated by leadership from the three member W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations and include scholars, Elders, Knowledge Keepers and those with specific knowledge in their field of expertise. We contacted all members of the committee, however, we were not able to speak with them all at the time of publishing.
Donald Williams, a WTAC member and new councilor at Tsawout, shared:
“It’s an honour to be able to step into this role. I am going to walk in with an open mind and open heart and listen to each situation and, to the best of my ability, make a good decision for the people. That’s why I decided to run for council to be there for the people in another way. Most of the community knows I am there for the people in other ways, but now this gives me the opportunity to be there in a different way.”
Regarding community criticism of the WTAC, Will Morris is matter-of-fact:
“There are definitely growing pains but burying our heads in the sand isn’t going to help us accomplish what we want. We need a technical group to help us deal with what is coming at us. I understand the frustration of community members, but we need a place to start. We need educated people working to help us defend our rights and responsibilities. Sometimes we need to be the swords and the spears not just the shield. I don’t want my son and future generations to be stuck with the same struggle 20 years down the road. My grandparents tell me to leave it better than they found it.
I feel for the directors making these decisions, they’re tough ones, but I don’t believe any one of us is putting our Douglas treaty rights at risk by engaging.
We don’t have to agree with what they’re doing, but we have to be educated about what’s going on. Growing pains have to be expected. We have to remember, the leadership was elected for a reason.”
What’s next for the Technical Advisory Committee?
John Elliott shares:
“One of the things I would like to see for us is to have a thanksgiving prayer for the land that was returned; a gathering there. We want our families to spend some time on these places. We’ve been cut off from these places and blocked from returning, so it feels like foreign land to us. I would like to see our families be connected, feel like they have someplace they’re not cut off from the land.”
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