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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore woman’s dog found in Colwood more than two weeks after going missing

Isla went missing on March 10 and was found 17 days later

Saanich police ticket two speeders before 9 a.m., Saturday

Officers still actively enforcing road safety amid COVID-19 pandemic

PHOTOS: Painted fence in Langford shows thanks for essential workers amid COVID-19

Community members finding unique ways to show their appreciation

Duncan man asks community to donate RVs to essential workers in need of quarantine

Ryan Oakley creates a Facebook group to help coordinate the effort

Antibody tests could be the next step in fighting COVID-19, Island doctor says

The blood test could show if a person is recovering or has recovered from the virus

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

COVID-19: A message from the publisher

We will be making some changes to our print editions during these unprecedented times

B.C. Ferries passengers staying away, as asked, during COVID-19 pandemic

Ferry corporation says ridership down 70-80 per cent over the last week and a half

Sewers stitch masks to free up supplies for front-line health-care workers

“We have little old ladies sewing up a storm,” said Joan Davis

Experts weigh in on best handling of groceries during COVID-19 pandemic

Study suggests the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic

COVID-19 world update: Enforceable quarantine in NYC?; France orders 1 billion masks

Spain warns EU’s future at stake; New York governor calls Trump’s idea ‘federal declaration of war

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

Most Read