VOTING HAS started this morning as members of the Kitsumkalum First Nation decide to accept or reject a land claims agreement in principle.
Acceptance of a package consisting of land, resources, money and self government provisions will lead to the start of formal negotiations for a final agreement for the Kitsumkalum who number just over 700 people.
Of that population total, 569 people over the age of 18 are eligible to vote.
It’s a number Julie Nyce and the other members of the Kitsumkalum communications team have been carefully tracking since their work started in January 2012.
“There’s 173 voters on reserve [just west of Terrace], 77 in Terrace and 90 in the Lower Mainland,” Nyce said in reeling off larger locations where voters reside.
“And two in Oregon and three in Alaska.”
The search for Kitsumkalum members and the development of the voters’ list has involved mail, email and various forms of social media in the attempt to find everyone who is eligible to vote.
Once located and signed up, voters are sent information to inform them on the agreement in principle details so that their decision is as informed as possible.
That effort includes newsletters – 20 at last count, community meetings, smaller coffee sessions and meetings in homes.
Team members have, for instance, travelled to Prince George and one, Joanne Bertsch, has had the task of informing Kitsumkalum members in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island.
“What I’ve done is rent a conference room in a hotel and bring in the information we need,” she said.
Questions surrounding taxation, health care, housing and education are among the more common asked of the team.
“People in the city are used to paying taxes,” noted Bertsch. “For them, that’s not an issue. They already have an understanding.”
The issue of health care has also been important as people wonder how services might change under self government.
There’s also been discussion among voters about how housing within the Kitsumkalum village site will be allocated should a final treaty be negotiated.
Answering questions, providing information and building up a voters list have fully occupied the communications team. Most of the members knew each other before taking on their respective positions and they’ve grown closer since.
“It’s the best thing for our community,” says Jennifer Bolton of the agreement in principle.
She and other team members do point out that the agreement in principle is not binding and that should it be approved, negotiations toward a final agreement can mean changes to the provisions of the agreement in principle.
The land portion of the agreement in principle, 454 square miles, comes from the province and the cash portion, $44.2 million, from the federal government.
A separate deal, signed in January, would provide the Kitsumkalum with an immediate further 148 hectares from the province should the Kitsumkalum approve the agreement in principle.
One of those parcels is earmarked for a housing development and another would extend the area of the Kitsumkalum quarry which has recently started operations.
Out-of-town ballots sent by mail have been coming in and are being carefully kept until the count begins when in-person voting ends tonight at 8 p.m. at the Kitsumkalum hall.
The communications team is spending today offering rides to voters and will be keeping track of who has voted and phoning those who have yet to cast a ballot to encourage them to do so.