The regional district board resurected the past issue of a First Nation Protocol agreement during the Corporate Services Committee meeting on April 4.
The protocol agreement dates back to the previously elected board, who, along with local First Nations bands developed two documents: an Accord, which spoke to the relationship of mutual respect and the formalization of a government to government relationship and a Protocol which established specific parameters to a new form of governance along with a commitment from each party to work together on issues of mutual concern.
The Penticton Indian Band, the Osoyoos Band and the Lower Similkameen band were prepared to sign the protocol as early as September 2008, but concerns raised over some wording in the document’s recitals resulted in a determination by the board to delay signing until the concerns were reviewed.
The particular passage that was causing a stumbling block read:
“Whereas the regional district recognizes that the Okanagan Nation, of which PIB, (Penticton Indian Band) LSIB (Lower Similkameen Indian Band) and OlE(Osoyoos Indian Band) are members, has distinctive constitutional rights, including Aboriginal title and Aboriginal rights that flow from their prior and organized occupation of their territory, and that give rise to corresponding constitutional obligations on the Crown, including upholding the honour of the Crown through meaningfiul reconciliation, accommodation and consultation;”
Summerland’s regional board reps, after consulting a lawyer regarding the wording, were advised not to sign the agreement in 2009. An amended protocol that was subsequently presented to the Penticton Indian Band later that year was not acceptable to the band, and the protocol agreement hung in limbo until March of this year, when, during a Community to Community meeting between regional district members and local First Nations bands, the matter was raised once more.
“It came as a surprise to us,” Chief Administrative Officer Bill Newell said of the First Nation’s interest in the agreement, adding that the issue altered the agenda of the meeting.
Newell also told the board that the problem clause – dealing with aboriginal title and rights – was not within the jursidiction of local government.
“From a legal point of view, we are told not to sign it, but from an old bureaucrat’s point of view, go ahead,” Newell said. It was also determined in a report to the board that the wording did not seem to commit or bind any party to a specific course of action, and that the purpose and intent of the document was valid in that it would enhance the process of building a relationship with First Nations neighbours.
A few directors remained uncomfortable with the protocol. Area “D” Director Tom Siddon expressed a desire to support the recommendation to sign the agreement, but West Bench Director Michael Brydon expressed concern that the regional district and First Nations were “miles apart on some fundamental issues.”
Princeton rural Director Brad Hope expressed concern over the fact that the Upper Similkameen Indian Band was not represented in the agreement, but CAO Newell assured him that there was room for the USIB to be included at a later date.
Area “G” Director Angelique Wood opined that the agreement represented “ A very clean form of wording as framed – this should be pushed forward. We won’t get anywhere if we don’t support this.”
Princeton Director Frank Armitage expressed concern that the Similkameen Valley Planning Society’s work to build local relationships could be derailed by accepting the agreement without the USIB’s inclusion. However, Keremeos Director Manfred Bauer described the SVPS’s issues as a “totally different” issue, noting that the SVPS had sent a conciliatory letter to the USIB to discuss issues that were preventing dialogue.
“That should not prevent us from remidiating past mistakes,” he told the board.
Summerland Director Janice Perrino explained that lawyers had told the municipality in 2009 that since aboriginal rights and titles were not issues of local government, they should not sign the agreement.
“I think it’s safe to do so today,” she told the board.
In clarification, CAO Newell explained further that the constitution named First Nations as a level of government.
“Lawyers are saying that it’s not a local issue to talk about rights and titles.The board hung their hat on that in 2008, but it’s really not an issue.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since 2008,” he concluded, noting recent court rulings regarding aboriginal rights and title.
The Corporate Services Committee unanimously carried a motion to enter into the protocol agreement with all First Nations bands within the regional district. The motion came forward to the regular board meeting on the afternoon of April 4 and was subsequently approved at that level. The next step in the process will involve formalization of the agreement through a signing process of all participating parties.