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Defining our Interest in the Southern Vancouver Island Regional Advisory Committee

September 1996

Governance - making it work

ARC's interest statement of October, 1995, outlines our concern that any treaties negotiated result in peace, harmony and social justice for all residents of British Columbia, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. Failing this, there can be no lasting solution to today's tensions. Our interest lies, further, in putting in place structures of governance that will ensure the survival of B.C.'s aboriginal communities as peoples, that is, that they achieve economic self-sufficiency and are able to maintain their aboriginal cultures, languages and rights within a Canadian context. This includes respecting collective rights and customs where appropriate.

Harmonizing laws

This is easily stated but it is not an easy task. It means harmonizing laws between Canada, British Columbia and the First Nations, while at the same time respecting international and domestic law that recognizes the inherent rights of aboriginal peoples. The particular blend of federal, provincial and aboriginal law should, in any treaty, be a matter of reasonable negotiation and not rest on coercion or any misguided attempt to impose integrated systems in the pursuit of business efficiency.

Harmonizing Services

If the First Nations are to have a stable economic and political foundation, they will need an economic base that enables them to have affordable housing, social services and education at levels compatible with similar services elsewhere in the province.

In the management of fisheries and land, systems of registration or certification should recognize traditional beliefs and customs.

Those aspects of governance that are closely tied to the preservation of language and culture are of particular importance in treaty negotiations. They include: education, family and child services, health, and local peacekeeping.

Interim measures

A searching look is required at how these are managed. The B.C. Treaty Commission has itself found that the B.C. government is handling the matter badly. It is unacceptable that non-aboriginal interests continue to extract resources during the treaty process from lands that are in dispute. Serious consideration should be given to suspending activities until ownership of the lands has been established, or at the very least, putting in place an adequate system of compensation.

Other issues

Not all issues are negotiable. This means:

bulletThe First Nations have the right to determine their own membership.
bulletNo precondition requires the First Nations to surrender their aboriginal rights. Mr. Justice Hamilton, in A New Partnership, pronounced clauses of "extinction" to be unnecessary.

In discussing the treaty process, appeals are often made to "equal treatment for all". The public should be made aware that equality does not mean the tyranny of the majority. Equality is often called upon, incorrectly, in an attempt to suppress dissent or divergence from mainstream ways. The Canadian legal system has frequently taken special circumstances and beliefs into account, as, for example, in affirming the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from violent conflict. An example that fits here is the right to collective ownership of land that has always been exercised by aboriginal peoples, and this right should be upheld in treaties.

We very much regret that no mention is made of the healing process that needs to take place if injuries sustained by the First Nations during the last 150 years or more of colonization are to be overcome. Wrongs need to be admitted and compensation made if we are all to move forward together in a spirit of understanding and cooperation. Only then will justice have been done. The new Canadian partnership based on treaties demands no less.