A new governmental initiative seeks to speed up the process of settling modern-day treaties in British Columbia.
Representatives from the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations Summit signed on Dec. 1 the Principals’ Accord on Transforming Treaty Negotiations in B.C.
The accord seeks a “different approach to treaty negotiations to get results in a shorter time frame that lead to prosperous, healthy and self-determining Indigenous communities,” according to a B.C. government press release.
The B.C. treaty process began in 1993 to address outstanding land claims because very few treaties between Indigenous nations and the Crown have been signed in the province.
In the Burns Lake area, the Nee Tahi Buhn, Wet’suwet’en and Burns Lake Band said they were not involved in the treaty process. The status of the Skin Tyee, Lake Babine and Cheslatta First Nations was not clear.
The main aims of the accord include speeding up the process of settling treaties, a commitment to following the principle of reconciliation, the implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recognition of First Nations’ rights and land title.
Almost 10 treaties currently under negotiation could be finalized in two years, Celeste Haldane, Chief Commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission told Lakes District News.
“We now have 10 negotiation tables in Stage 5 and looking at our Stage 4 tables we have 20 tables,” she said. “The will is there to do it and I would say five can move to Stage 5 in the next little while,” she said.”
Stage 5 involves negotiating to finalize a treaty before Stage 6 of implementation.
Haldane added that another policy shift is in how negotiations are funded.
“They’re contribution-only now. Before it was 80 per cent loans, 20 per cent contribution. We couldn’t have protracted negotiations when it comes to that kind of funding. Contributions come from [provincial and federal governments.”
“The other big shift was the movement away from extinguishment or surrender,” she said, referring to Indigenous groups needing to give up Aboriginal title to certain lands in most treaty negotiations. “That’s off the table. It’s [now] about moving forward towards a positive relationship.”
MLA John Rustad, who represents the Nechako Lakes constituency said the accord looks interesting and pointed out that its principles aim to “try and improve a system that was designed in the 1990s.”
A speedier treaty process would also be a welcome change from what he saw when the Liberals were in power.
“It was always frustrating to see the slow pace of progress at the treaty tables,” he said.
Wilf Adam, former chief of the Lake Babine First Nation and who also worked for the BC Treaty Commission for 12 years, said that if the new treaty policy changes mean “there can be more land and resources on the table, then any agreement with the governments will probably move ahead and work.”
However, Adam said the land and resources under negotiation in the treaties have so far been insufficient.
“In fact, it’s really laughable the offers on the table. It’s not good at all. If the new accord doesn’t address that they’re just spinning their wheels. Just words.”
Under the B.C. Treaty Commission, three First Nations have reached the final treaty stage, out some 65 First Nations in the province at different stages of the process, according to commission data.