There is no more urgent goal for our government than ensuring British Columbians have the jobs and economic opportunities needed to support their families.
Under Premier Christy Clark, we are unlocking opportunities through partnerships between First Nations, industry and B.C. communities to generate jobs. Partnerships with First Nations are poised to unleash major economic benefits and increase capacity and opportunities in First Nations communities. The question is how we can get those benefits sooner.
I recently spoke in the Tsawwassen First Nation Legislature, which exists today because they took the bold step to negotiate B.C.’s first urban, modern-day treaty.
Tsawwassen is a shining example of what treaty can accomplish. Since implementation, Chief Kim Baird has secured significant investment to create jobs for Tsawwassen families and their neighbours.
But they had to wait a long time for those benefits. We must develop ways of building economic partnerships faster because treaties haven’t come together as quickly as we’d like. Many have been in negotiations for over a decade. We need to see benefits faster and more often.
We can’t ask First Nations to wait indefinitely for economic benefits through treaty and we can’t afford to miss out on the opportunities they afford all British Columbians.
In the BC Jobs Plan, we committed to 10 new non-treaty agreements by 2015.
We have developed a range of agreements that allow us to be flexible – Reconciliation Protocols, Incremental Treaty Agreements, Economic Benefits Agreements, Revenue Sharing Agreements and more.
They are creating real progress outside the treaty process – jobs, economic opportunities and brighter futures. They allow First Nations not yet ready to negotiate a treaty to realize the benefits of shared economic agreements with the province.
For example, Strategic Engagement Agreements strengthen relationships and investment, and act as a step towards treaty.
Recently, Taku River Tlingit First Nation signed one that creates protected areas, while also providing resource development opportunities and investment certainty in Northwestern B.C.
In fact, we are putting land and governance opportunities on the table earlier to build momentum in negotiations and show First Nations there are benefits to working with the province.
We are working with First Nations that have chosen not to negotiate a treaty – and with those that are in treaty negotiations – to pursue agreements that will bring benefits to their communities or bring them earlier in the process. Some will lead to a treaty; others will not.
Too often when we talk about negotiations with First Nations we hear about conflict, about the length of time it takes to reach agreement, rather than the importance of what we are trying to achieve.
B.C. still believes treaties provide certainty on the land base and self-governance that leads to self-determination, while reconciling rights and title. But there are many paths to reconciliation that bring economic and social benefits to First Nations and other families.
B.C. will continue to focus on agreements that create success and certainty for everyone, with the full knowledge that our long-term goal is to have a treaty with any First Nation that desires one. In the meantime, we are working with First Nations leaders now to achieve the full economic potential of B.C. for all families.
Mary Polak is the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister.