The forum was organized by the Lower Fraser Floodplains Coalition, of which Watershed Watch Salmon Society is an organizing member.
Stó:lō Territories / CHILLIWACK, B.C. – At a day-long regional gathering on June 9th, leaders from First Nations, local and provincial governments, federal and provincial agencies, farm associations and stakeholders came together to lay the groundwork for an action plan for flood management and long-term resilience in the Lower Fraser region. A total of 58 different organizations were represented.
The third Lower Fraser forum was convened last week by the Lower Fraser Floodplains Coalition (LFFC), and generously hosted at The’í:tselíya – S.A.Y Health and Community Centre on Sq’ewqeyl (Skowkale) First Nation territory. The event brought together officials and experts to build on important discussions emerging from the July 2022 Forum. The 2023 Forum was co-chaired by Tribal Chief and Chair of the Emergency Planning Secretariat, Tyrone McNeil, and Chilliwack Councillor and Fraser Valley Regional District Board Chair, Jason Lum.
“The goal of this Forum is to build relationships across the various governments and agencies that deal with flood management, to identify what’s working and figure out how best to tailor new provincial initiatives to support the work that needs to happen in our region,” said Tribal Chief McNeil, whose work with the Emergency Planning Secretariat supports over 30 First Nations communities in developing Hilekw Sq’eq’o, a Regional Action Plan for Mainland Coast Salish First Nations to achieve resilience by implementing the Priorities for Action outlined within the Sendai Framework while blending Indigenous science and worldviews with worldwide best practices.
Through dialogue, Forum participants identified priority issues for attention at the regional scale in the Lower Fraser, including critical infrastructure and essential services, restoration and recovery of the Fraser River and its floodplain, and food security. Participants strongly endorsed the need for developing an action plan with short-, medium- and long-term objectives for these shared priorities, as a basis for sustained federal and provincial funding.
There was overwhelming support for building collaborative relationships at the regional and sub-regional level among First Nations, local governments and farmers to identify and implement actions and objectives with multiple benefits. Participants also called for capacity building and specific funding to support this vital work.
This year’s Forum was attended by representatives from 13 Lower Fraser First Nations and 16 local governments, as well as BC Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, Bowinn Ma, who came with a team of senior provincial officials working on BC’s Provincial Flood Strategy, Disaster and Climate Risk and Resilience Assessment, Climate Preparedness and Adaptation Strategy, and climate adaptation initiatives for agriculture. Also attending were representatives from the First Nations Summit, Indigenous Services Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the BC Agricultural Council and four farm associations, and a number of stakeholders, such as the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society, the Fraser Basin Council, Farmland Advantage and others.
During the event, Minister Ma expressed support for the development of a regional action plan for the Lower Fraser through collaborative work among First Nations and local governments. This would align well with provincial initiatives being led by her ministry, including the modernized Emergency Program Act, which is being developed in a way that implements the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Minister Ma also noted that the five guiding principles identified by the Lower Fraser Floodplains Coalition for strengthening flood resilience are in alignment with the forthcoming BC Provincial Flood Strategy.
After listening to the morning discussion, Minister Ma offered her reflections on what resilience means:
“A resilient BC is where … we’re not afraid of what Mother Nature is throwing at us, because we are working with her, not against her. We’re building our communities in a way that understands how nature works, instead of fighting it.”
Further comments from Tribal Chief McNeil:
“As First Nations we are looking for willing partners to do this work, to build resilience for all of our communities in the shared landscape of the Lower Fraser. If we work together, respectfully, we have an opportunity to move away from the current model where everyone competes for funding, and tries to shape projects to fit different funding streams. We can go to the federal and provincial governments with action plans that we have developed together, and proactively get the funding we need.”
“Making sure that critical infrastructure and essential services are resilient is something we can all agree on, and a good place to start with prioritizing regional action.”
As follow-up to the Forum, the LFFC has committed to summarize the dialogues from the gathering, and share recommendations for next steps. The LFFC has also committed to support relationship building and knowledge sharing in the region, with future plans for regional and subregional convening and dialogue, education, and technical support for nature-based flood management.
About the Lower Fraser Floodplains Coalition: Previously known as the Build Back Better Together Collaborative, the Lower Fraser Floodplains Coalition is a group of BC-based organizations and experts with the shared goal of helping B.C.’s flood recovery and management efforts achieve the best possible outcomes. The Coalition offers interdisciplinary support from a diverse range of interests, experience and networks, including Indigenous groups, conservationists, farmers, environmental legal specialists, researchers and natural resource professionals.