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B.C. Treaty Commission predicts busy year and possible changes to process

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    B.C. Treaty Commission predicts busy year and possible changes to process 2 hours, 33 minutes ago By Scott Sutherland, The Canadian Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2007
      B.C. Treaty Commission predicts busy year and possible changes to process
      2 hours, 33 minutes ago
      By Scott Sutherland, The Canadian Press

      VICTORIA - The B.C. Treaty Commission is trumpeting some breakthroughs on land claims this year but warning it may be time to come up with new approaches to get more First Nations to the negotiating table.

      In releasing its annual report Tuesday, the commission anticipated that several First Nations may take the successful ratifications of the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth treaties over the last few weeks to heart and move to the final agreement stage.

      "It creates the buzz that treaties are possible," said commissioner Jody Wilson.

      The deal with the Tsawwassen First Nation will give the 300-member band more than 700 hectares of prime land in Delta, south of Vancouver, about $14 million in cash, self-government provisions and fishing rights

      The Maa-nulth treaty will give the five bands on western Vancouver Island a capital transfer of $73.1 million, annual resource royalty payments averaging $1.2 million for 25 years and a land transfer of approximately 245 square kilometres.

      The commission report said there are eight First Nations whose members could conceivably be casting votes over the next few years. They are among about 20 said to be making some progress at the negotiating table.

      However, another 14 First Nations are reported "struggling due to significant differences in positions" and the remaining two dozen are "doing very little or nothing at all at the treaty table."

      "There is serious dissatisfaction within many communities with what they view as not enough on the table in order to effect a treaty," said acting chief commissioner Jack Weisgerber.

      The commissioners pointed to the Lheidli T'enneh First Nations' rejection of their final agreement, the first treaty to go to a vote this year. They felt it was a case of many members of a First Nation who not quite ready to sign on to a deal that was seen as problematic and not well understood.

      A major strategic error identified by the commission was the decision to hold the band council election just eight days before the treaty vote.

      While treaty content is a major factor, Weisgerber noted that the preoccupation with other issues and priorities is a challenge for some First Nations.

      "For many First Nations the treaties simply do not represent their idea of true reconciliation," he said.

      So the commissioners are supporting the concept of a common table, which has been suggested by a group within the treaty process known as the unity protocol.

      The group has called on both the provincial and federal governments to change their positions regarding certainty provisions - deciding whether federal, provincial or First Nation laws are to apply on the lands under the settlement agreement and in the case of a disagreement, whose law takes precedence.

      It also wants government to modify its stance on the constitutional status of treaty lands, governance, fiscal relations and taxation and co-management throughout treaty lands.

      The commission notes that a recent statement from the First Nations Summit, which represents aboriginal groups in the treaty process, warned that reaching further agreements is in serious jeopardy unless the governments change their negotiating mandates to ensure the recognition of aboriginal rights and title.

      The commission believes a so-called common table could allow the parties to negotiate and develop options regarding those issues.

      In addition, the commission said it would also be prepared to convene a separate high-level table for those First Nations with a shared interest in negotiating specific treaty chapters.

      Weisgerber also noted that increasingly First Nations and other governments are seeking solutions outside the treaty process.

      Over the last year there have been significant announcements in British Columbia of deals on health, education, language, housing and economic development.

      "Actions taken as a result of these announcements may well relieve some of the pressure on treaty negotiators to solve all of the problems through treaty," Weisgerber said, but warned it's a double-edged sword.

      "There's always the danger that these initiatives will divert energy away from treaty negotiations. The ideal situation, from our perspective is the negotiating table."

      The commission is also pointing to recent court cases that will undoubtedly have an effect on coming negotiations.

      Weisgerber said decisions such as the recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling in the Tsilhqo'tin case - it confirmed aboriginal rights and title to thousands of square kilometres in the central B.C. Interior - usually have the effect of fortifying First Nations' attempts to win more concessions at the negotiating table.

      But the commission felt it also provided a clear message that the courts are not the right place to effect reconciliation of competing interests and provided further encouragement to all parties to negotiate.

      Another court case that quashed an attempt by several Vancouver Island First Nations to thwart the Tsawwassen treaty because their agreement overlapped competing claims gives another compelling reason to First Nations to resolve their territorial issues early on in the negotiating process.

      The treaty commission said it now is proposing to get more involved in resolving these so-called overlap issues.

      "Things are going to change in our process and I think the commission is receptive to that," said Wilson. "We are going to encounter a hugely busy year next year."

      Since being created in the spring of 1993, the B.C. Treaty Commission has allocated $398 million in negotiation support funding to more than 50 First Nations, or about two-thirds of the aboriginal groups in the province.

      The commission lost two of its five members when former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt left in May at the end of his term and chief commissioner Steven Point became the first aboriginal appointed B.C. lieutenant-governor.

      A spokesman for the commission said the federal government announced Tuesday that Jerry Lampert, former head of the B.C. Business Council, has been named to replace Harcourt effective immediately.

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