Myles Richardson is a translator, but it’s not words he’s deciphering – rather the meaning behind them. He’s carved out a job helping 'spirited' discussions between B.C. businesses and First Nations.
Myles Richardson is a translator, but it’s not words he’s deciphering – rather the meaning behind them. He’s carved out a job helping B.C. businesses and First Nations ‘talk’ to each other. In a province with a horrendous history for settling treaties, the slow-talking, laid-back Richardson says the two sides shouldn’t wait around for treaties to be signed; they need to work toward land-use deals that will ease tensions and see business get underway now, to the benefit of both sides. “We don’t work well together,” he says from his Haida hometown in Skidigate (where he likes to fish), 700 kilometres north of Vancouver (where he prefers to golf). Richardson, 50, was president of the Council of Haida Nations for 12 years, left that in 1996 to join the B.C. Treaty Commission, where he was appointed chief commissioner, and then left to run (unsuccessfully) as a Liberal for Skeena-Bulkley Valley in the 2004 federal election. He’s seen enough of First Nations politics in B.C. to know it’s gritty one minute and gratifying the next. The latest bubbling of bullish news came with the BC Liberals’ unveiling of its “new relationship with First Nations,” outlined in September and backed by a $100-million vote of confidence. “I just hope and pray they mean it this time,” he says dryly. Last year, he started a business running interference and building bridges between companies that want to drill, log or run tourism operations on land either under claim (er, most of the province) or near aboriginal communities. Hired by businesses and First Nations alike (he won’t name any clients or divulge his hourly rate), Richardson says there’s usually a genuine will to work together, but neither side sees a way. “They often talk past each other, just don’t understand each other and end up throwing up their hands in frustration and it either gets done in an adversarial way or not at all.” He’s not giving up on treaties, but says neither business nor First Nations can afford to wait around. “Frustration around the treaty process is something people got over long ago,” he quips. “It’s the reality of how dysfunctional these relationships are.” In addition to treaties, self-governance is what’s needed for First Nations to move ahead, he says. But are they ready? What about problems of misuse of finances? “There’s a lot of room for improvement because now they are giving more control to local communities without governance structures in place.” (Richardson himself came under fire in 2002 when a forensic auditor looking into BCTC practices uncovered sloppy record-keeping and contracting-out procedures when he was chair.) These days, he’s busy translating. “There’s still a big cultural gap – people not being willing to listen to something that is different at a fundamental level. Look at the title question.” It’s certainly a business model with growth potential. Many British columbians still have a hard time getting their head around the fact that the bulk of the land they’re living on may not rightly be theirs.