B.C. VIEWS: Sign treaties, or 'shut 'er down' say First Nations
Finally, somebody in the B.C. treaty negotiation system has come out and said it.
Releasing the B.C. Treaty Commission’s 19th annual report last week, Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre announced she has asked for a one-year extension to her term, to see the organization through its second decade. And if things don’t change, particularly in Ottawa, then “shut ’er down.”
The commission facilitates talks and doles out funds to aboriginal groups researching and negotiating treaties. As of this year, they have disbursed $500 million.
“We are 19 years into the process, and we have, just on the First Nations side, a half a billion dollar investment, and when are we going to start seeing a return on that investment?” Pierre asked.
It’s safe to assume that there has been at least that much spent by the federal and provincial governments as well. And after a burst of progress with the Tsawwassen and Maa-Nulth treaties, and a controversial deal with the Yale First Nation in the Fraser Canyon, costly inaction resumed.
Sliammon First Nation negotiators finalized a treaty in 2009. Off it went to Ottawa, where it has languished ever since, waiting for a set of initials that would allow a ratification vote by about 1,000 Sliammon people near Powell River. At stake is a settlement in which B.C. contributes 8,300 hectares of Crown land and Ottawa provides $37 million to compensate for a century of trespass and resource extraction from Sliammon territory. Other commissioners agreed with Pierre about Ottawa’s role, including the federal appointee, Jerry Lampert. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was in B.C. last week to sign an agreement to hand over authority and funding for on-reserve health programs to a new aboriginal authority that will work with the provincial health system directly to administer reserve health programs. A similar agreement was signed in 2006 for aboriginal schooling. B.C. Health Minister Mike de Jong and Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak agree that these broader self-government transfers for health and education, along with forest and mining deals, will bring treaties closer. Pierre’s blunt warning must have been heard in Ottawa. It appears the Sliammon treaty has been located and will receive federal blessing this week.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com