BY JOANNE BERTSCH
On April 10 the people of the Kitsumkalum First Nation will have an historic opportunity to shape their future and the future of their children when their votes for or against a Kitsumkalum agreement in principle (AIP).
I am proud to be from Kistumkalum, and since last summer I’ve been working as a treaty ambassador in Vancouver, where I currently live. Like roughly 500 other Kitsumkalum band members, I live off reserve. I’ve spent months visiting other urban members to provide information on the treaty process and vote. Through my work, I’ve come to learn that there are a lot of myths around the treaty and vote.
One of the more common myths is that somehow, if a member votes to support the AIP, the treaty is a done deal. That’s not the case. The AIP is just an important step in the process, with many opportunities for dialogue and discussion to come.
A vote for the AIP simply means that we are giving our negotiators the mandate to move forward toward developing a final agreement. The AIP covers many issues, but others still need to be worked out. Issues that will be tackled in the later stages of the treaty process include fishing, fiscal arrangements and resource revenue sharing. This hard work can only begin if the AIP is approved.
Many ask if our treaty will be like other treaties. Like every First Nation, our treaty will be unique. We can look to other treaties and see what has worked and what hasn’t. We, as a community, have the opportunity now to shape our future and learn from the hard work of those that have come before us.
This is our opportunity to emerge from the red tape of the Indian Act and stretch our wings. The treaty process allows us to determine for ourselves how to manage our lands, our fishery, our resources and our social development in a way that reflects our millennia-old culture.
I am an advocate for the AIP because it sets the framework for a better life for my children. A final agreement will give us our own constitution and laws. With no more Indian Act, our traditional way of life – hunting, fishing and foraging – can be preserved.
By voting yes to the AIP, right away, we will see a concrete benefit of two parcels of land, totaling 158 hectares, being returned to us. And that land will be ours forever, no matter what happens in the later stages of the treaty process. And with that comes our ability to determine how that land is managed.
April 10 is an exciting day for the Kitsumkalum people. It is an opportunity to shape our future. It’s an opportunity to make real the dream of our grandfathers and grandmothers who began working toward this decades ago.
The AIP doesn’t mean we’ll have a treaty, but it does mean we are one step closer. Now is our time to take control of our future.
Aren’t you curious about what the final agreement will look like? I am, and that’s why – I’m voting yes!
Joanne Bertsch is a treaty ambassador to Kitsumkalum members living in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.