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Editorial Page Editor, Times Colonist

Dear Editor,

The Citizens Voice on Native Claims, in a recent full page ad in the Time-Colonist, made several sweeping statements about treaty negotiations in B.C. They sound plausible to those unfamiliar with the background but betray a misunderstanding of the purpose of the treaty process. They say:

  1. "Treaties must foster greater equality of opportunity and responsibility for all Canadians." This is the first misapprehension. Why should they? Treaties have the specific task of addressing the problem of unceded land in B. C., a situation that relates exclusively to the First Nations' traditional territories. The negotiators are not empowered to solve all the problems afflicting society at large. This statement also ignores the fact that systematic discrimination has robbed the aboriginal community of opportunities that other Canadians have had until now, and they do not start on a equal footing.
  2. "Treaties must respect private property rights and existing tenures, leases and licenses; and they must protect existing jobs and worker rights." In other words, the status quo must be maintained. So why bother with treaties? There is no point to treaties that don't change a system that isn't working. The Social Credit Government of Bill Vander Zalm entered into the treaty process, not to right historic wrongs - heaven forbid our legislators should act from such high-minded motives - but to achieve clarity and certainty over land title in B.C. and improve the climate for investment by putting an end to blockades and court challenges.
  3. "All British Columbians must have a vote in a province-wide referendum". Then what is a legislature for? There was no referendum on NAFTA, for example, which affected a far larger number of people. Treaties involve complex negotiations and are struck by governments with the long-term interests of their people in mind. A referendum would assert the tyranny of the majority. The Nisga'a live in northern B.C. in the isolated Nass valley. It would be a denial of their democratic and civil rights if millions of people living in distant cities and areas who have little knowledge of the constraints of living on a reserve, controlled from Ottawa by the Indian Act, were to decide on how aboriginal people should live. The interests of the people of British Columbia are represented by their M.L.A. who are expressly elected to hear and respond to their concerns. Province-wide hearings have also been held on the Nisga'a treaty to enable all interested citizens to have their say. There are over 40 sets of treaty negotiations in progress, some involving small communities. Each settlement will reflect local conditions and the differences between them will be enormous. Should there be province-wide referenda on each one? It boggles the mind!

These are some of the objections to the misleading, negative and one-sided message put out by the Citizens' Voice on Native Claims. It fails to deal with the historical injustice of taking over land without any formal recognition of its previous ownership. A more balanced approach is needed if the long-standing problem of unresolved land title in B.C.is to be settled.

Yours truly,

Aboriginal Rights Coalition Victoria.
1005 Karen Crescent, V8X 3C7
Tel. 479-7876