Tsilhqot'in Nation to be recognized as full partner in wildfire response

The Tsilhqot'in Nation has signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with the federal and British Columbia governments that recognizes the First Nation as a full partner in wildfire response.

'Truly historic' agreement says justice minister

The Tsilhqot'in First Nation shown cloaked in a smoky haze as a result of B.C.'s wildfires in July, 2017. (CBC)

The Tsilhqot'in Nation has signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with the federal and British Columbia governments that recognizes the First Nation as a full partner in wildfire response.

Through the agreement, the three governments will work together to identify best practices and build the First Nation community's capacity to manage emergencies.

Chief Joe Alphonse's community, which he says has 400 trained firefighters and understands fire response better than anyone, defied an evacuation order in 2017.

"The ultimate decision is ours and ours alone," said Chief Alphonse during a news conference Saturday.

"We have a crew that's just as good as anyone, and we won't back down from any fire."

Alphonse says he'd like to see a culturally appropriate First Nations evacuation centre established, as well as a training facility.

He says that although wildfires encircled three quarters of his community last season, the flames posed less of a threat to the community than the federal and provincial governments, which failed to acknowledge the First Nation's jurisdiction and expertise.

'Truly historic'

Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould described the agreement as "truly historic." 

"The Tsilhqot'in obviously have an extensive amount of experience," said Wilson-Raybould.

"Indigenous peoples have an extensive knowledge of their territories — as they have been caretakers of their lands for thousands of years — and we can only benefit from that."

B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser says it is an important step toward reconciliation.

With files from CBC News