Harold Leighton, Chief Councillor of the Metlakatla First Nation. (File photo)

Metlakatla transitions treaty negotiations to Stage 5

Indigenous nation near Prince Rupert moves closer to self-governance agreement with province

Metlakatla First Nation has signed an agreement with the federal and provincial governments that has advanced its treaty negotiations to the next transition.

Since 1997, Metlakatla entered Stage 4 of the treaty negotiations and has remained there until this month.

“They used what we call a cookie cutter approach, and that didn’t work for us,” said Harold Leighton, Chief Councillor of the Metlakatla First Nation. After hitting the wall, Leighton said they realized they had to change the way they were negotiating.

“We’ve been here too long, on both sides, all parties, we can find a way to improve the process,” he said.

On Feb. 28, the agreement to “build a collaborative government-to-government relationship” was announced stating that the parties will finalize Stage 5 within two years. Within that time, outstanding issues will be renegotiated. There are six stages in the treaty negotiation process.

“What’s important about this agreement is that we start a base on recognition of Metlakatla’s Aboriginal rights and title, and that hasn’t happened in the past. And then the recognition of the UN Declaration and all the other agreements that have been negotiated by different parties over the last few years that are very important,” Leighton said.

In the next two years, the parties will move toward a “core” approach to the treaty. The three parties will look into self-governance, resources, land ownership, and law, all of which would go into a “constitutionally protected core treaty”.

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Some flexibility will be considered through supplementary agreements, according to the press release.

“Treaties are one of the key paths to comprehensive reconciliation with First Nations, so I’m glad to see this collaborative work reach such an important milestone… Like our relationships, this agreement is flexible and will grow and evolve over time, working for all parties into the future,” said Scott Fraser, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

Leighton, along with Fraser and Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations all signed the Metlakatla Transition to Stage Five and Treaty Revitalization Agreement.

Metlakatla are one of the seven Tsimshian First Nations on the north coast of B.C., and their community is based on the Tsimshian Peninsula near Prince Rupert.

For full text of the agreement visit www.metlakatla.ca

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Shannon Lough | Editor

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