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VARC Submission to the Public Consultation Process on the MB Settlement Agreement

By Joel Harvey, June 24 , 1999

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition(ARC), Victoria, protests the approach to First Nations considerations taken in arriving at the current stage of the MacMillan Bloedel Settlement Agreement.

While there are several items of concern to this group, most of these will be addressed by other presenters. The most serious concern from our point of view, as long time advocates of real justice for aboriginal people in Canada, is the impact of this "agreement" process on the credibility of the Treaty Process. Government Press Releases, its Web sites, and even the process consultant’s Terms of Reference suggest that consulting with First Nations is of prime importance. But in our view, this emphasis has not been demonstrated visibly or adequately to date.

The Supreme Court decision on Delgamuukw made it clear that where unceded aboriginal title is concerned, governments are morally obliged to consult with First Nations and to negotiate in good faith. There is already significant legal background on the meaning of "good faith" in such negotiations; in light of this kind of background, and common sense considerations of "good faith" and "fair play" it appears to us that the spirit of the Delgamuukw decision has been very weakly observed..

The approach taken to date in developing the settlement package has placed the "consulting" at the adjustment and revision end of the process, instead of at initial part of the process. In doing so, there is a clear appearance of bad-faith, "backroom dealing" to anyone who might be impacted by this agreement - including the First Nations engaged in the Treaty Process, and participants such as ARC/Victoria group who go to considerable lengths as volunteers to promote the Process in public.

This kind of action appears to contradict the spirit of the B.C. Treaty Process and leaves one seriously questioning the good faith and sense of the B.C. government. It is a slap in the face to the public for the government to develop these initiatives, after presenting a rigorous process "openness protocol" in the minutiae of treaty negotiations.

And in light of the M.B. purchase by a US based company, we must further wonder what additional weakening of ‘good faith’ will be tolerated by the government. It is our further understanding that many other such initiatives are in the works; a continued lapse of "openness" in these areas will seriously weaken the overall support for the treaty process.

Our request to government via this hearing is that full consultation with any affected First Nations that request it proceed now and be concluded before any more work is done on land-swap arrangements. And that government attempt to fully understand and act in "good faith" in negotiations with the First Nations of British Columbia.