B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad signs agreement in principle with five Vancouver Island First Nations April 9. It establishes land and cash settlement

Treaty cash cow may dry up

Some B.C. Treaty Commission negotiations are making slow progress, while others have seen little or no movement

VICTORIA – The B.C. Treaty Commission and its federal and provincial financiers put on a brave show last week, celebrating a “milestone” in negotiations for a modern treaty with five Vancouver Island First Nations.

A regional group representing the Songhees, Beecher Bay, T’Souke, Malahat and Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nations have reached the “agreement in principle” stage of negotiations with Canada and B.C., after 20 years of treaty talks.

This is similar to the treaty finalized in 2007 with another five-member Vancouver Island group called Maa-Nulth Nations. The Te’mexw Treaty Association agreed to accept 1,565 hectares of provincial Crown land and $142 million in federal cash to settle its historic aboriginal title.

Alas, agreement in principle is but the fourth of sixth stages. Now a platoon of lawyers takes over from the roomful of negotiators to produce the final legal text. It will be years before this treaty can be presented to the B.C. legislature and the House of Commons in Ottawa, if it ever is.

These elaborate ceremonies will never be viewed the same again after the release of federal treaty advisor Doug Eyford’s report last month. The Te’mexw event seemed to have an extra urgency after Eyford’s observation that much of this costly activity has become a job creation program for those involved.

These Vancouver Island communities deserve credit for setting aside their own territorial disputes. It’s more than most have done. Eyford concluded after a long summer of meetings last year that many treaty negotiation teams in this province and across the country show no such inclination.

In B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, there is a “conspicuous lack of urgency in negotiations” and “sharp divisions” between parties, most of which have been at the table for a decade or more, Eyford found.

This is what has come to be known as the “aboriginal industry,” where lawyers and consultants have a seemingly endless supply of lucrative work, much of it of questionable value. For some aboriginal participants, attending treaty meetings year after year is the best paying job they have ever had.

Indeed, a common feature of the province’s dealings with aboriginal communities is that their leaders demand meetings, and then demand to be paid to attend them.

This latest Vancouver Island treaty, assuming it is ever finalized, would at least in part replace the Douglas Treaties, signed by B.C.’s colonial governor James Douglas in the 1850s.

These treaties around Fort Victoria were quickly concluded if nothing else. The Beecher Bay Band was paid 45 pounds, 10 shillings for most of Sooke and another 43 pounds and change for its Metchosin territory.

One of the biggest missing pieces in the latest agreement in principle is the share of federally-regulated fisheries. This has been a theme of B.C. Treaty Commission reports in recent years, as Ottawa holds up treaties for years because it is unable or unwilling to offer shares of salmon in particular.

Hunting and fishing rights are acknowledged even in historic treaties, and reaffirmed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sharing these rights while maintaining conservation of fish stocks has been more than Ottawa, and in some cases neighbouring aboriginal communities, have been able to manage.

Eyford’s findings, and the B.C. government’s sudden refusal to keep staffing a B.C. Treaty Commission that shows so little progress, have sent one overdue message.

If participants aren’t prepared to make real compromises and show a willingness to conclude agreements rather than drag them out, they should leave and come back when they are ready to do so.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Mill fire at Tolko caused by spark

The Quesnel Fire Department responded at 2:30 this morning

Hospital Auxiliary chosen for wool shop charity

Hospital Auxiliary chosen because they are voracious knitters and all proceeds remain in Quesnel

Fox used ice floes on the Quesnel River

Signs of Ol’ Man Winter’s handiwork everywhere one looks in Quesnel

City executive committee looking at increased stipends

Council will consider impact of a stipend hike for committee chairs, acting mayors

FHL: Bear bounds back into the penthouse with a 5-3 win over Fraser River

Steve Dodge brings us all the highlights from the FHL

VIDEO: Orcas put on a show near Hornby Island

Louis Jobodin shares photos and video of his experience

LIVE: Solitary confinement in Canadian prisons unconstitutional: B.C. Supreme Court

Associations argued that solitary confinement was inhuman

1 in 4 B.C. consumers unable to pay bills, debt repayment: poll

Since interest rates first rose in July, poll suggests households across B.C. have had to tighten budget

SOGI rally disrupts school board meeting, but business carries on

Chilliwack school board makes statement in support of B.C.-wide gender identity teaching resource

154 remote B.C. communities to get high-speed internet

Government funding to bring subsea fiber optic cable to connect people on the coast

Kelowna West byelection called for Feb. 14

Four candidate race to replace departed former B.C. premier Christy Clark

Northwest husband and wife honoured for saving each other’s lives

BC Ambulance presented each a Vital Link Award for administering CPR

Bank of Canada hikes interest rate to 1.25%, cites strong economic data

The rate increase is expected to prompt Canada’s large banks to raise their prime lending rates

Trump aces mental aptitude test designed by Canadian immigrant

“This is a good example, I think, that will be helpful to change views about immigration. And maybe for Mr. Trump himself to consider immigrants as contributors to advancing science, advancing our societies.”

Most Read