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Fall 1998
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Fall 1998

SIRAC Report, Fall 1998

By Isabel Heaman

Update on local tables

Nanaimo:

The Nanaimo requested that provision be made for land banking and the acquisition of fee simple land on the open market in advance, as a cost-saving measure. Canada and B.C. rejected this proposal.

The provincial transport authority which had acquired 70 acres of land surplus to requirements for highways was prepared to hold off selling it for 2 years and lease it out in the meantime.

The federal government proposed a 2-part process to discuss specific land selection - a planning phase in July and specific parcels in September. The province, however, refused to commit to decisions on land selection at this time. (See below, under "Delgamuukw").

Consultations are continuing on awarding shellfish tenures (in two acre parcels) and on a joint partnership agreement to purify contaminated clams

Te'mexw:

No progress was made at the main table. The chief negotiators scheduled meetings to decide if any agreement was possible on land and economic development. The Te'mexw have objections to the current approach to the land question. Side tables are meeting to discuss fishing, and language and culture.

Hul'qumi'num:

They are still working on their land selection proposals. Fierce opposition has arisen to the Cowichan Valley Regional District's decision to log Hill 60 and use it for landfill, more particularly as this area is a heritage site where ceremonies still take place. Injunctions have been filed in court to block this development.

Other issues:

Governance:

The Dididaht and Pacheedaht First Nations (located in the Nitinaht Valley and Port Renfrew areas) held a governance workshop. Their treaty is nearing completion and the draft of the text dealing with services such as education, health, and child welfare were circulated so as to hear reactions from various workers in these fields. The provisions of the treaty were extremely detailed. It was generally felt that the conditions imposed were so tightly restricted by provincial norms that no room was left for First Nations practices, such as input from the elders. For those of us used to the negative atmosphere of the SIRAC meetings, it was a rare pleasure to listen to constructive comments on making treaties.

Eligibility and enrolment:

This is a highly emotive issue. When the federal and provincial governments presented their positions on the eligibility and enrolment of those qualified to ratify the treaty at the Hul'qumi'num main table, they were greeted by the comment that their position was insulting, offensive and patronizing. Whereas the First Nations react negatively to outsiders having a say in such matters, the senior governments take the position that though membership is an internal matter to be decided by the First Nation, the treaties are tripartite. Eligibility to vote on the treaty must therefore be decided on a tripartite basis.

Different tables are looking to different methods of solving this problem. The Hul'qumi'num believe public consultation at the community level should decide the issue. The Nanaimo have pulled the issue off the table and promise to satisfy any wording required in the text.

Delgamuukw and after:

Top level meetings have been held to see whether the lengthy treaty process can be accelerated. One factor that is unresolved is what impact the Supreme Court decision will have on negotiations. First Nations complain that the provincial government's refusal to interpret the ruling results in unnecessary delays in making progress.

Various ideas were floated. A B.C. proposal to make available a total amount of cash and land to be divided up among the various First Nations (in a sort of glorified peanut scramble) was quickly set aside. The notion that some issues may be decided at the regional rather than the local level was an unsettling one for local tables. The possibility of settling the cash component separately was also greeted without enthusiasm. A more promising proposal is that the local tables be given some idea of what the final settlement would look like (so-called "scoping") so they can decide whether it is worth their while to continue negotiations.

As you can see, the process of treaty negotiation is far from being perfect but there is no general agreement on how to make it better.