British Columbia

B.C. Agricultural Land Commission rejects First Nations' proposal for addictions treatment facility

But NDP mental health and addictions says she suports it and will work to see it implemented

Carrier Sekani Family Services argues facility urgently needed to address opioid crisis affecting its members

The B.C. Agricultural Land Commission has turned down a proposal from Carrier Sekani Family Services for a large addictions treatment facility on agricultural land. (Submitted by Carrier Sekani Family Services)

The provincial Agricultural Land Commission has rejected a First Nations' proposal to build an addictions treatment centre on ALR land.

On Feb. 26, the independent commission  — which oversees the provincial ALC Act — ruled the Carrier Sekani Family Services's plan to create a recovery centre on farmland near Vanderhoof, B.C., isn't suitable for agricultural land.

The Prince George-based organization is asking for permission to build a main facility measuring 25,000 square feet, a parking lot covering 2,150 square feet and to convert the existing 1,991 square foot Tachick Lake Resort lodge into staff housing. 

Carrier Sekani Family Services argues the facility is urgently needed to address the opioid crisis affecting its members.

The Northern Health region has the highest rate of drug-related deaths this year, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

In July, the First Nations Health Authority said overdose deaths among its Indigenous members has jumped by 93 per cent during the pandemic.

Tachick Lake Resort, located at the southwestern tip of the lake, was established in the 1960s, before the property was included in the agricultural land reserve during its inception 1972. 

Under provincial law, the resort can continue to be a recreational facility, but the First Nations must apply for the ALC's permission to use the resort for other non-farming purposes.

In its ruling, the commission said it would allow Carrier Sekani Family Services to use the lodge and several other small buildings in the land reserve as treatment facilities. But it won't permit the organization to build a new, bigger building that would accommodate 60 treatment beds, counselling areas and gardening spaces for Indigenous land-based healing practices.

"[The proposed project] could further alienate the [agricultural land] property from future agricultural endeavours and is therefore inconsistent with the mandate of the Commission," the ALC said in its decision.

Last year, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako recommended the ALC rezone the resort site for the larger addiction treatment centre.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween says her organization spent years studying different sites and found the existing resort is the best place to build the larger recovery facility. (Submitted by Carrier Sekani Family Services)

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween, who is also president of Carrier Sekani Family Services, says she's disappointed with the ALC's decision, because her organization has taken years to study different sites and explain to the land commission why the resort is the best place to build the larger recovery facility that would provide culturally appropriate services to Indigenous members who are struggling with substance use issues.

"We've worked so hard on trying to get this treatment centre in the north for our people, so it was a disappointment," Leween told Andrew Kurjata, the guest host of Daybreak North, on Wednesday.

On Monday, B.C. Liberal Leader Shirley Bond questioned whether the ALC's decision means the NDP government doesn't support addiction treatment solutions, but Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson says that's not the case.

"On Mar. 9, I met with Chief Corinna Leween. I expressed to her that I shared absolutely her disappointment that the Agricultural Land Commission, an independent body, had rejected .... the use that was proposed. This is not an NDP government decision," Malcolmson said in the legislature Monday.

"I've given my commitment to Chief Leween that we will pursue this further."

Leween remains hopeful.

"We're not giving up. We're still meeting with different people … we're carrying on our fight for a treatment centre in the north," she said.

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With files from Daybreak North and Chantelle Bellrichard