The Xaxli’p community slides into a long-term opportunity
Just over a year ago, the Ten Mile Slide on Highway 99 near Lillooet closed the highway for eight days, cutting off an important route linking local communities to Cache Creek, Kamloops and northern BC.
The slide happened on a portion of the highway on the Xaxli’p Reserve, directly impacting the Xaxli’p community and its members, many of whom were unable to get to work and school during the eight-day highway closure.
There had been ongoing instability at the site of the slide since the late 1980s, making the road unstable and unreliable for travelers. But the magnitude of the 2016 slide – a volume of rock and earth that would fill 400 Olympic swimming pools – and its subsequent impact on the lives of many people in the region, meant it was time to find a lasting resolution to a decades-old issue.
Late last year, the BC Government committed $60M in funding for a long-term solution for the slide area, beginning emergency stabilization work in January 2017. Suddenly, Xaxli’p leaders found themselves heading to the negotiation table with the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure, aware it was critical for the community to be actively involved in the stabilization process.
“Our mission speaks to being independent and self-sufficient, but also to working in the best interest of the Xaxli’pmec,” says Chief Darrell Bob Sr. “We had a clear short-term goal of ensuring a safe road for the people in our community, and the communities around us, but we had a vision as well: to create a long-term positive benefit out of a situation that has impacted us for so long.”
Chief and Council recognized the challenges the community faced: first, that there was no one in the community with the strong technical knowledge and experience needed to represent them effectively in negotiations around Xaxli’p inclusion on project contracts. The second challenge was how to address the fact Xaxli’p didn’t have capacity within the community to benefit from the construction opportunities the community knew were coming.
Chief Bob continues, “We called Leonard Jackson at BCT Projects to help find a partner to join us in negotiations with the Ministry around contracting participation, and a partner who could work with us to build capacity in the community.”
Jackson introduced the Xaxli’p community to seasoned construction-industry player, Chris Leatherdale, who has a long history of working with First Nations communities and is someone Jackson knew would be a good fit with Xaxli’p.
“Chris has been working in construction for years. He knows how the industry works. He knows how to negotiate large projects with Government and big industry players. And he knows how to build construction companies from the ground up.”
“Chief and Council wanted to find a way to talk to the Ministry about what was important to the community, while recognizing they also needed to hear and understand what the Ministry had to say,” says Leatherdale. “An important part of what I do is helping ensure we’re all speaking the same language and have a clear, shared understanding of what’s happening at the slide site. When we’ve got this mutual understanding, we can we negotiate a strong agreement that is good for everyone.”
“First Nations typically come to BCT Project because they want to change their relationships with Industry and Government, and to make sure their communities benefit from current and future projects in their area,” says Jackson. “While the discussions between Xaxli’p and the Province are still underway, Xaxli’p leaders took initiative and it’s paying off, as they build new relationships and knowledge to take the community forward.”