Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White went before the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa Tuesday to examine the federal government’s constitutional and legal responsibilities to aboriginal peoples.
White, along with colleagues from the First Nations Summit including Grand Chief Edward John, expressed frustration to the committee that the B.C. Treaty Process, established in 1992, has not met its mandate or lived up to its commitment to produce negotiated agreements between government and First Nations.
“Patience First Nations have shown over the last 20 years is nearing its end,” White told the committee of senators. “The Crown does not match expectations of 20 years ago when we embarked on this process.”
There are currently 60 First Nations involved in 49 separate sets of negotiations as part of the B.C. Treaty Process.
John said that while negotiations can be complex, predetermined templates used by the government in discussions are too rigid and out of date to fulfill the process’s mandate, which is to provide self-sufficiency for First Nations on their lands.
“Federal framework of policies must be scrutinized and revised with new standards established,” he said. “The same lands that provide Canada with wealth, through resources, are the same ones that prevent First Nations from being self-sufficient.”
John also said the “revolving door” or politicians through elections or cabinet shuffles has also stifled dialogue over the past generation.
“It’s an incredible challenge to First Nations interests,” he said.
Senators on the standing committee present at the meeting included Nancy Greene Raine, Don Meredith, Sandra Lovelace Nicholas and chairwoman Lillian Eva Dyck. Minister for Aboriginal Affairs John Duncan was also present.
Since being elected Snuneymuxw chief in December 2010, White has been strong in his position that the Douglas Treaty of 1854, intended to provide Snuneymuxw people with traditional ways of life, has not been honoured.
“Self-sufficiency has been impossible to achieve,” he said.
The First Nations Summit, established in the early 1990s, is comprised of a majority of First Nations and tribal councils and provides a forum in B.C. to address issues related to treaty negotiations as well as other issues of common concern.
While the senate committee mulls over the Summit’s concerns, Snuneymuxw is planning to host a conference on pre-confederation treaties at Vancouver Island University in May.
The conference, titled The Pre-Confederation Treaties of Vancouver Island: Fulfilling Treaty Promises and Living Treaty Relationships, will host multiple presenters with a broad range of background on aboriginal treaties