Sophie Pierre is winding up her extended term as chief commissioner of the B.C. Treaty Commission.

Time for truth in B.C. treaty talks

Tsawwassen, Maa-nulth and other aboriginal communities move ahead, but others have only debt to show for years of negotiations

VICTORIA – Three years ago, long-time chief and band administrator Sophie Pierre sought an extension of her term leading the B.C. Treaty Commission and gave a warning. The federal and provincial government should start taking this long and costly effort seriously or “shut ’er down.”

Last week Pierre wound up her sixth and final year as chief commissioner on a slightly more hopeful note. This year, the Tla’amin Nation in the Powell River area and the Yale First Nation in the Fraser Canyon had their treaties proclaimed by Ottawa.

They join the Maa-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island and the Tsawwassen First Nation in leaving behind the Indian Act and the courts to get on with self-government. Tsawwassen in particular has moved ahead aggressively. Its shopping centre and housing development near the ferry terminal is one of the largest commercial projects in the province right now.

All of these treaties were negotiated despite multiple overlapping territorial claims around them, and similar progress has been made with the Tsimshian First Nations on the North Coast and elsewhere.

The need for aboriginal people to work out their overlapping claim issues between themselves was the focus of the commission’s 22nd annual report. Former chief commissioners Miles Richardson of the Haida Nation and Steven Point of the Sto:lo Nation added their influential voices, urging aboriginal communities to consider them shared territories, rather than clinging to ancient tribal rivalries.

Another hopeful sign is that after seven years of commissions and studies, the federal government has finally given its negotiators a mandate to negotiate fisheries. This is the main reason why the Tla’amin waited five long years for Ottawa’s blessing after their treaty had been hammered out.

This year’s landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, recognizing Tsilhqot’in Nation title in the remote Nemiah Valley, has also got the attention of Victoria and Ottawa. Pierre noted the “flurry of activity” by Premier Christy Clark in seeking reconciliation, which will culminate this month with a formal apology for the hanging of Tsilhqot’in chiefs 150 years ago.

Pierre said this court ruling “should destroy any lingering thoughts that this issue is not of the utmost importance, and provide the necessary investment, both financial and time commitment, to reach satisfactory conclusions.”

That’s the good news for B.C.’s thorniest historical problem, the lack of treaties across most of the province.

It’s also becoming clearer that the Tsilhqot’in ruling is unique. It’s unlikely to be repeated by most other First Nations, even if they are willing and able to spend the years and millions to enrich lawyers in pursuit of it.

Here’s the bad news. As of this year, the B.C. Treaty Commission has paid out $627 million to First Nations to support treaty negotiations. Most of that is in the form of loans, which are to be repaid out of the cash settlements that Ottawa contributes to settle modern treaties.

Pierre acknowledges that some communities are close to completing treaties, but their debt has climbed to near what Ottawa is offering. This would leave them free but broke.

Others are just “spinning their wheels” with no real hope of achieving a treaty, Pierre said. The commission is calling for an “exit strategy” for these communities, starting with loan forgiveness that would allow them to pursue economic activity.

There are First Nations, Westbank and Osoyoos prominent among them, which are thriving without treaties. Haida and Klahoose have developed successful forest products businesses as they move toward self-government.

Federal and provincial governments must recognize the successes, and the failures.

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

Just Posted

FortisBC to maintain gas rates for the remainder of 2019

The next review for natural gas and propane costs will be in Dec. 2019

Revelstoke company airing on Dragons’ Den this fall

Did the Dragons invest? Find out on Oct. 17

Photos: For the love of garlic

Highlights from 2019 Revelstoke’s Garlic Festival

Books for Kids campaign aiming for $30,000

Money raised during the campaign will help Revelstoke improve literacy and love for reading

Man cycles across B.C. Interior for sobriety

Vancouver Island Resident Mat Fee is approaching the final phase of his cross-Canada bike journey to raise awareness about addiction recovery.

‘It’s almost surreal’: South Okanagan fire chief, sidekick Sammy recap rescue mission in Bahamas

Chief Larry Watkinson and Sam the disaster dog spent 8 days assisting a search and rescue team

Defense says burden of proof not met in double murder case against Victoria father

Closing statements begin in trial for man accused of killing daughters Christmas 2017

B.C. dog breeder banned again after 46 dogs seized

The SPCA seized the animals from Terry Baker, 66, in February 2018

Surrey mom allegedly paid $400,000 for son in U.S. college bribery scam

Xiaoning Sui, 48, was arrested in Spain on Monday night

Three dogs found shot dead in Prince George ditch

The three adult dogs appeared to be well cared for before being found with gunshot wounds, BC SPCA says

Vancouver police could be using drones to fight crime by end of year

The police department has already purchased three drones, as well as three others for training

B.C. party bus company to be monitored after 40 intoxicated teens found onboard

Police received tip teens and young adults were drinking on party buses and limousines in Surrey

Okanagan ski racer chosen for grant in end game

Makena Kersey, 18, has called it a career following a gruesome leg injury, but story inspires grant

North Okanagan’s own CSI digging into crime mysteries

Forensic Identification Section a specialized support unit used in various cases

Most Read