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

Treaty cash cow may dry up

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

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

Airbnb hosts earning millions in the Okanagan

The Okanagan was among the list of three Canadian wine markets.

UPDATE: One dead, two in hospital after Highway 1 crash near Bridal Falls

Closure expected to last hours, while drivers are told to take detours

Pawnshops support curbing crime with digital database

At least two pawnshops in Penticton are in support of upgrading to a digital list of items purchased

B.C.’s devastating 2017 wildfire season revisited in new book

British Columbia Burning written by CBC journalist Bethany Lindsay

Walk to end abuse for those who can’t

SOWINS’s Debbie Scarborough points to the lethal potential in intimate partner abuse

Buy a lotto ticket and be a hero to B.C. burn victims

The Hometown Heroes Lottery is offering up seven grand prizes including a home in Lake Country

UPDATE: Grass fire burns near Mission Hill winery

Smoke can be seen around West Kelowna as a fire gets underway near Mission Hill

Vernon SAR manager wins national volunteer award

A Vernon Search and Rescue manager was one of those honoured for her dedication and innovation.

Giant beer tanks arrive in new B.C. home city

Molson Coors tanks finish river journey and move to overland trip in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Pipeline supporters rally across B.C.

Five simultaneous events organized by month-old Suits and Boots lobby group

VIDEO: B.C. woman praises burn fund after boat explosion in 1978

White Rock woman was 16 years old when she was left with second- and third-degree burns

B.C.’s Ryan Craig, Vegas Golden Knights chase history

Local product behind bench for expansion team’s incredible championship run

CP rail workers give strike notice

Employees could walk out as early as Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT

Most Read