Making history through patience, hard work
Right up until he walked to the podium at UBC, Dallas Smith thought the historic Great Bear Rainforest Agreement might not happen.
“It took so long, with so many bumps on the road, and so many times when I thought it was never going to get done,” says Smith, president of the Nanwakolas Council, and one of the lead negotiators. “What we actually accomplished didn’t sink in until the event was over.”
For Smith, it was the culmination of 10 years of persistent work, the result of countless hours of negotiation. It meant building an unprecedented new model of nation-to-nation discussion – and demonstrating to the world that balancing economic growth with environmental protection and Indigenous values was not only possible, but the best route to a shard, bright future.
“We had no mechanism, no example to point to get this done, no person who had written laws like this before,” says Smith. “We had to do it all from scratch.”
“It took a day just to establish where everyone would sit at the table,” says Corby Lamb, who represented Western Forest Products in the early days of talks. “Things were out of control.” Today, Lamb is the president of Capacity Forest Management, and works exclusively for First Nations to help with economic development.
The scope of what they accomplished – protecting an area of temperate rainforest the size of Ireland – has attracted international recognition, including inclusion in the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. But Smith and Lamb both say the bigger accomplishment might be a “total shift in thinking.”
“Industry didn’t know how to work with First Nations,” says Lamb. “Now, local First Nations communities have forestry tenures, opportunities, and are the major players in central coast traditional territories.
Creating jobs is one thing – making sure people in local communities have the skills to fill them is another.
“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, we did skills training but not for specific jobs,” says Smith. “Now, we’re working with the people who do business in our territories, from aquaculture and forestry down to our hospital, training people for jobs they don’t have to leave the community for.”
For Smith, the next step is replicating the process elsewhere, which is why he’s been connecting with communities such as the Sto:lo and Ktunaxa.
Lamb says industry, Indigenous communities, and governments can learn from Smith: “He was persistent and patient, but it’s more than that,” says Lamb. “He’s not a table pounder. He believes in talking instead.”
The results speak for themselves.
“We showed you could have real, meaningful discussions, without being irate,” says Lamb. “And we ended up with a deal where everyone came out ahead.”
“To call it a success, people’s lives in those communities had to be better,” says Smith. “And I think we’ve done that.”