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BC treaty negotiations process paying off for First Nations and the province

BC treaty negotiations process paying off for First Nations and the province

This letter to the editor appeared in the May 10-16, 2016 issue of Business in Vancouver: 

Dear editor,

It is essential for something as important to our country as treaty negotiations that we get our facts right.

In an editorial published on May 3 (“Bypassing BC treaty process pays off” – BIV issue 1383; May3-9) Business in Vancouver wrote that there are two First Nations that “have managed to navigate” the six-stage made-in-BC treaty negotiations process, providing “a meagre return” on taxpayer investment.  This is incorrect.

As of April 5, 2016, when Tla’amin Nation’s treaty took effect, eight First Nations are implementing modern treaties in BC. Seven were negotiated within the BC treaty negotiations process: Tsawwassen, the five Maa-nulth First Nations (Huu-ay-aht, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Chek’tles7et’h’, Toquaht, Uchucklesaht, Ucluelet), and Tla’amin. The Nisga’a treaty was negotiated prior.

Since signing its treaty in 2009, Tsawwassen First Nation created a billion-dollar retail and residential development, one of the largest construction projects in BC, and the biggest non-resource agreement ever signed by a First Nation in BC. 

The development will create over 4,500 jobs during construction and another 3,000 jobs when the shopping centre opens.  This development is a direct result of the Tsawwassen treaty.

While agreements, such as the Jericho Lands deal BIV referenced in the May 3 editorial, provide economic benefits, many First Nations are committed to long-term reconciliation that treaties provide.

As noted in the Treaty Commission’s 2015 annual report [p. 23], 65 First Nations, out of all 200 Indian Act Bands in BC (52.5%) are participating in or have completed treaties through the BC treaty negotiations process. Of those, 41 First Nations (39%) are in active or completed negotiations.

In 2015 four agreements in principle were signed, the most ever in one year. So far this year the four communities represented by the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council each voted ‘yes’ to continue into final agreement negotiations.

BIV noted that the taxpayer investment in treaty negotiations has been $656 million. Although this is the amount the Treaty Commission has allocated since 1993, only $141 million is non-repayable contribution funding. The remaining funds are repayable loans and the seven First Nations implementing treaties are already repaying their loans.

Without a treaty there is no self-government. Without self-government the legacy and problems of colonialism will continue. “The Indian Act was put into place to control and limit the existence of First Nation people, it never provided any security or certainty,” said Hegus Clint Williams, Tla’amin Nations leader.

By implementing their treaty, Williams says Tla’amin is “removing [themselves] from the shackles of the Indian Act to become a self-governing nation.”

A modern treaty, fairly negotiated and honourably implemented by the First Nation, Canada, and BC, is the greatest expression of reconciliation.  Bypassing this does not bode well for our collective future. 

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