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Treaty Process Review

Report on the Meeting between the First Nations’ Summit and TNAC (Treaty Negotiations Advisory Committee), held at Squamish Recreation Centre, January 28, 1999..

Notes by Isabel Heaman

The meeting was convened by the First Nations to discuss mutual interests and problems with TNAC, a group representing province-wide third-party interests. It was opened by Ed John of the Summit Task Force, after which representatives from various sectors of TNAC spoke They all expressed their support for the treaty process. In upcoming tripartite talks on accelerating the treaty process, a step which all agreed was desirable, TNAC members wished to be present as observers, to better inform their members and help sell the process. Some of the other points made are given below.

After welcoming the 22 sectors of TNAC, Ed John listed problems experienced by the First Nations. The treaty process is open but the public complains it doesn’t understand it. Yet at a public forum in Prince George, only 4-5 non-natives attended, even though 2,000 odd had participated in a plebiscite held by Reform MLAs a week earlier.

The government had signed an agreement with the Truck Loggers Association to pay them compensation for any losses from treaties. There is no compensation for First Nations, only for other interests.

Various meetings had taken place: with TNAC in December; also with the Union of B.C. Municipalities; and the environmental communities. There was a meeting with the labour sector in Nanaimo which endorsed the principle of aboriginal title. The Summit was happy for support from the churches. There have been four sessions with the business communities on how to conduct business together and share.

There is urgent need for resolution of the land question. It has been calculated that it will cost the First Nations hundreds of millions of dollars to settle land title. That is, they have to pay money for what is theirs. The Nisga’a and the Sechelt have come to agreements. There are 46 tables still in negotiation. There is no plan, no map, no strategy on how to cope with this volume. Jerry Lampert, Business Council of Canada, stressed the need for openness. For example, the Nisga’a treaty, negotiated in secret, had aroused suspicion confrontation and fear, whereas the Sechelt treaty, with an open process, had been greeted more positively. The value of TNAC is under constant scrutiny; as one accomplishment he pointed to the certainty provision contained in both treaties. Treaties offer both social and economic opportunities. It is important for TNAC members to bring their concerns to the table. There is room for differences but resolving land claims is important.

John Shields (B.C.G.E.U., labour), reported on a conference in Nanaimo between FN and labour that agreed to support the recognition of aboriginal title. There are specific labour concerns. The government has trouble finding adequately trained staff to supply all tables. There is a fear that those who settle first will get more than those who come after. Labour is supportive of success that provides jobs for First Nations but not at the cost of its members’ own jobs. Similarly, in capacity building, they will share their expertise if their own jobs are not at stake.

Good stewardship is concerned with the quality of life in resource-dependent communities, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. Isabel Heaman, Aboriginal Rights Coalition, pointed out that TNAC itself may be considered to have flaws, being a self-contained group that focuses primarily on the economic interests of its members and the financial implications of treaties for them. ARC would be happier if a wider point of view, looking at the good of the entire community, were better represented. ARC is interested in governance; for example, putting in place dispute resolution mechanisms that work so that treaties lead to social harmony, otherwise they will fail. Other problems with the treaty process include: a continuing need for public education (other than through expensive ads); the issue of compensation for resources extracted needs to be revisited; the length and cost of negotiations creates a unacceptably heavy burden on First Nations; and the flow of information from the senior governments is not always complete. At the same time, the treaty process has momentum and is finally dealing with the long overdue issue of justice for British Columbia’s First Nations.