Treaty commission releases report

Author:
Updated:
Original:

VICTORIA, British Columbia -- The British Columbia Treaty Commission has
released its annual report on the state of treaty negotiations in the
province, and found encouragement in the effect of recent court rulings at
the negotiation tables.

"While important court rulings and political actions have at times
overshadowed treaty negotiations this year and temporarily slowed progress,
these developments are likely to have a positive impact on future
progress," Commissioners Steven Point, Wilf Adam, Mike Harcourt, Jack
Weisgerber and Jody Wilson wrote in their report. "Clearly, policy changes
are necessary and are being considered as a result of the Supreme Court of
Canada decisions in cases involving the Haida and Taku River Tlingit.

"While political talks are proceeding, it is likely that court rulings will
continue to further clarify the nature and extent of Aboriginal rights."

The Haida -- Taku cases confirmed the legal necessity for governments to
meaningfully consult with First Nations when legislation or industrial
developments could have an impact upon their traditional territories.

British Columbian First Nations have reportedly launched as many as 34 new
cases, which are the major developments the treaty commission has had to
consider in assessing the current status of treaty negotiations.

"Pressure is mounting for treaty models based upon recognition and
coexistence of rights rather than the surrender or final settlement of
Aboriginal rights. Finality is no longer an option and perhaps was never a
viable idea," the report read. "When First Nations are frustrated in
negotiations they turn to the courts for recognition of their rights or to
protect their rights as negotiations continue. When negotiations come to an
impasse, there is no effective process outside the courts to resolve the
dispute.

"Consequently, the courts have found themselves becoming bigger players in
protecting Aboriginal interests and have indicated they are prepared to
play a greater role in overseeing negotiations. This has potential
implications for the parties in the event negotiations break down. The
federal and provincial governments will have to revisit policies that often
result in a halt to treaty negotiations when a First Nation takes court
action.

"The Treaty Commission sees the court rulings in Haida and Taku as
reinforcing the need for treaty negotiations to be part of the process of
reconciliation. There must be clarity on the link between short-term
accommodation agreements and treaty making."

The BCTC is encouraged by the recent leadership agreement bringing together
First Nations involved with the British Columbia First Nations Summit,
Union of British Columbian Indian Chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations,
as well as the New Relationship document signed with the provincial
government.

"The willingness to achieve a new relationship between First Nations and
the Crown is reminiscent of the leadership and commitment that was shown
when the treaty process was launched with much fanfare in 1992. We expect
some major breakthroughs in treaty negotiations in the coming months. One
or more First Nations may finally achieve the agreement they have been
seeking since entering the treaty process 12 years ago."

The treaty commission is the independent and neutral body responsible for
facilitating treaty negotiations between the governments of Canada and
British Columbia, and the province's First Nations. As the independent
keeper of the British Columbia treaty process, the commission carries out
three complementary roles: facilitation, funding and public information and
education.

The commission's operating budget for 2004 -- '05 was $1.99 million and its
total funding for operations from 1993 to March 31 was $24.22 million. In
addition to the four part-time commissioners and the full-time chief
commissioner, the commission employs 13 staff members. Funding for
administering the treaty process and for settlement costs is borne jointly
by the federal and provincial governments. The Canadian government
contributes 60 percent of the commission's budget; the British Columbian
government, 40 percent.

The commission allocates negotiation support funding so that First Nations
can prepare for and carry out negotiations on a more even footing with the
governments of Canada and British Columbia.

The first loans will become due in August 2006. It is expected that most,
if not all, First Nations now in the treaty process will request and
receive extensions over the next few years.

Since opening its doors in May 1993, the treaty commission has allocated
approximately $325 million in negotiation support funding to more than 50
First Nations, representing approximately two-thirds of the First Nations
in the province.