Treaty cash cow may dry up

Some B.C. Treaty Commission negotiations are making slow progress, while others have seen little or no movement

B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad signs agreement in principle with five Vancouver Island First Nations April 9. It establishes land and cash settlement

VICTORIA – The B.C. Treaty Commission and its federal and provincial financiers put on a brave show last week, celebrating a “milestone” in negotiations for a modern treaty with five Vancouver Island First Nations.

A regional group representing the Songhees, Beecher Bay, T’Souke, Malahat and Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nations have reached the “agreement in principle” stage of negotiations with Canada and B.C., after 20 years of treaty talks.

This is similar to the treaty finalized in 2007 with another five-member Vancouver Island group called Maa-Nulth Nations. The Te’mexw Treaty Association agreed to accept 1,565 hectares of provincial Crown land and $142 million in federal cash to settle its historic aboriginal title.

Alas, agreement in principle is but the fourth of sixth stages. Now a platoon of lawyers takes over from the roomful of negotiators to produce the final legal text. It will be years before this treaty can be presented to the B.C. legislature and the House of Commons in Ottawa, if it ever is.

These elaborate ceremonies will never be viewed the same again after the release of federal treaty advisor Doug Eyford’s report last month. The Te’mexw event seemed to have an extra urgency after Eyford’s observation that much of this costly activity has become a job creation program for those involved.

These Vancouver Island communities deserve credit for setting aside their own territorial disputes. It’s more than most have done. Eyford concluded after a long summer of meetings last year that many treaty negotiation teams in this province and across the country show no such inclination.

In B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, there is a “conspicuous lack of urgency in negotiations” and “sharp divisions” between parties, most of which have been at the table for a decade or more, Eyford found.

This is what has come to be known as the “aboriginal industry,” where lawyers and consultants have a seemingly endless supply of lucrative work, much of it of questionable value. For some aboriginal participants, attending treaty meetings year after year is the best paying job they have ever had.

Indeed, a common feature of the province’s dealings with aboriginal communities is that their leaders demand meetings, and then demand to be paid to attend them.

This latest Vancouver Island treaty, assuming it is ever finalized, would at least in part replace the Douglas Treaties, signed by B.C.’s colonial governor James Douglas in the 1850s.

These treaties around Fort Victoria were quickly concluded if nothing else. The Beecher Bay Band was paid 45 pounds, 10 shillings for most of Sooke and another 43 pounds and change for its Metchosin territory.

One of the biggest missing pieces in the latest agreement in principle is the share of federally-regulated fisheries. This has been a theme of B.C. Treaty Commission reports in recent years, as Ottawa holds up treaties for years because it is unable or unwilling to offer shares of salmon in particular.

Hunting and fishing rights are acknowledged even in historic treaties, and reaffirmed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sharing these rights while maintaining conservation of fish stocks has been more than Ottawa, and in some cases neighbouring aboriginal communities, have been able to manage.

Eyford’s findings, and the B.C. government’s sudden refusal to keep staffing a B.C. Treaty Commission that shows so little progress, have sent one overdue message.

If participants aren’t prepared to make real compromises and show a willingness to conclude agreements rather than drag them out, they should leave and come back when they are ready to do so.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

Hospice to Vernon council race candidate dies

A week after leaving hospice to go to city hall to declare his candidacy, David Hesketh has died.

Semi-truck rollover reported on Trans-Canada between Salmon Arm and Sicamous

No injuries being reported, traffic down to single lane alternating

CMHA to host Suicide Loss Facilitation Workshop this week in Vernon.

Presenters are Terry Androsky and Marilyn Ferguson.

Vernon Mosaic River officially unveiled Saturday

The art piece is located Cenotaph Park in downtown Vernon.

Environment Canada confirms Ottawa area hit by two tornadoes Friday

At one point more than 200,000 hydro customers were blacked out

Trans Canada now open west of Chase, ‘heavy delays’

Few details available about crash that closed Trans Canada Highway west of Chase Sunday, Sept. 23

Trump drains oxygen from Trudeau foreign policy with PM, Freeland bound for UN

A lot has changed since the Liberals came to power in Canada in 2015

B.C. man fined $15,000, barred from trading securities for fraud

Larry Keith Davis used money from an investor to pay personal bills

Emergency crews investigate small sulphuric acid spill in Kootenays

IRM states a small volume of less than one cup and three dime-sized drips were leaked from carrier

Family, friends of B.C murder victim want killer sent back to max security facility

Group wants convicted murderer Walter Ramsay sent back to a maximum security facility

B.C. VIEWS: Looking under the hood of ICBC’s war on crashes

Is our accident rate really soaring, or is it inefficiency?

B.C. tent city residents have three weeks to clear out: Supreme Court

Fire risk, criminal activity in neighbourhood cited as reasons for judgment

Most Read