To help deal with a massive influx of development on the Squamish Nation’s traditional territories, the Nation has created a new job and hired someone to do it.
Whether it be a small bridge crossing a creek or a megaproject like Woodfibre LNG, the director of rights and title will be playing a key role in gathering the information needed to help with consultation and negotiations with various parties, such as developers or the government.
That task has been assigned to Squamish Nation member Peter Baker, who’ll be heading the newly-formed Rights and Title Department of the Nation.
"Really, it's a vital role,” said Baker. “It's an important role for us to make sure we have a voice on what happens within the traditional territories, and that we continue to jealously guard our rights and title to the unceded lands.”
Baker’s role will be like that of a cornerman, providing the nation’s negotiators necessary background for them to make a good choice. He won’t be the one bargaining at the table, but he will still be at the table.
He and his team will work to determine how potential development might affect the Nation’s traditional land.
For example, this involves project assessment, environmental and archeological permitting, natural resource management, rights and title litigation and negotiation, and upholding the duty to free, prior and informed consent.
Baker said ultimately, it’s about protecting and maintaining the Nation’s stewardship over its traditional lands.
“Now it’s time to evolve and get ourselves prepared to meet the major demands of what’s happening in our traditional territories,” said Baker.
“And when you take a look at it, it’s quite massive. Woodfibre LNG is one project. We have a number of different areas like the Matthews Southwest development in Squamish. Down here [in North Vancouver,] we have the wastewater treatment plant. We have the Pattullo Bridge replacement….
“There are so many projects happening — and those are the mega projects, not even talking about ones that might be a bridge going across a creek in our traditional territory or a river.”
Previously, Baker was the employment and development partnership negotiator for the Nation’s Education, Employment and Training Department.
Under that role, he helped develop trades training programs, among other things.
The road to this new job has been a natural progression over the years, he said.
Baker said that as a student, he took an interest in political science because of Indigenous rights and title. However, career-wise he took a bit of a detour before arriving at this current gig.
Baker made his way into hospitality and tourism initiatives.
About five years ago, he shifted gears when his aunt offered him a role as a job coach working with students looking to find employment in the trades, he said.
Over time, he started developing programs and teaching at the Nation’s Training and Trades Centre.
He’d eventually be part of discussions in higher-level projects where the Nation’s workers would be involved. More senior roles followed until Baker found himself in his current position.
“I don't look at it as a job, as much as I look at it as sort of a mission and a passion of how we can work collaboratively and in a progressive manner to make sure our rights and title are protected, secured and how we can move our interests forward,” said Baker.
“It's a fascinating role. I'm totally excited.”