Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This time, maybe we will see treaties

VICTORIA - Treaty commissioners are optimists. It’s practically part of the job description to be able to look ahead - year after year - and predict that finally, the long, expensive process is going to produce an agreement.
Every fall, the commission holds a news conference in a hotel here to release its annual report and offer an update on treaty talks. There’s been a couple of gloomy ones. Back in 2002 - in the wake of Gordon Campbell’s destructive and now ignored treaty referendum - the commission warned that unless things changed there was little chance of reaching settlements.
But mostly the message is hopeful. Treaties are just around the corner, the commissioners have regularly said, even as the corner seemed to be moving farther away.
That was the message again this week. Two final agreements have been initialled. The commission expects another three by the end of the year.
This time, the commissioners may be right.
It’s been a long, expensive road to get this far. The treaty process started back in 1992. So far the commission has advanced First Nations $362 million to support negotiations, with $289 million of that loans that at least theoretically to be repaid. The federal and provincial government have spent something similar on their role in the talks, so figure about $600 million total.
It’s money well-spent, if we can reach treaties.
Chief commissioner Steven Point and commissioners Jack Weisgerber and Mike Harcourt made a pretty good case this week that agreements are near. (Even though they have been wrong before.)
All three attended the press conference. (Commissioners Jody Wilson and Wilf Adam, both elected as representatives by the First Nations Summit, didn’t attend. They were attending the First Nations Summit meeting in Kamloops, which was looking at ways to push the treaty process along.)
Weisgerber, the province’s appointment to the commission, is a former Socred MLA and the province’s first aboriginal affairs minister. He was a leader - maybe the leader - in arguing B.C. needed to negotiate treaties.. Harcourt is the former NDP premier who launched the commission and the current process. He’s the federal appointment. And Point, a provincial court judge and former chair of the Sto:lo Nation, was the joint selection of the First Nations Summit and provincial and federal governments. The commission has an impressive roster.
The most encouraging development is that the commission is now looking beyond the immediate challenge of negotiating treaties. It urged provincial and federal governments to be prepared to ratify any final treaties quickly, to build momentum.
That’s a reasonable request. Negotiators for the province and Ottawa have mandates from their masters. Unless they make some terrible blunder, political approval fort he deal they negotiate should be routine.
That wasn’t the case in 1998 when the NIsga’a agreement, reached outside the treaty process, was signed. The provincial Liberals, then in opposition, opposed the treaty. Ottawa delayed its ratification. The process took two years.
A lot of things have changed, starting with the political climate. Campbell was prepared to go to court to kill the Nisga’a deal; now he’s committed to a “New Relationship” that recognizes broad First Nations’ rights. The federal Conservative government may have killed the Kelowna Accord, but Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice says he wants treaties. First Nations, despite lots of frustrations, see a chance for a reasonable deal.
None of this means you should get wildly hopeful that you still won’t be reading columns like this in a decade. There are 57 First Nations involved in talks at 47 tables. Some are going nowhere, as governments focus on negotiations that might produce a quick deal. Some are going backwards.
But there is reason to be hopeful. If three or four treaties can be negotiated - and if they’re approved by the First Nations’ members, another big question mark - then an important pattern will be set.
Every First Nation will still want specific issues addressed. But a basic approach to compensation and rights and self-government will emerge. Things will get easier and progress will be faster.
If the commission is right.
Footnote: Why is this all so important? There’s a moral element. You can’t actually just take peoples’ land and not reach some agreement with them. That didn’t happen. And there’s a practical element. Harcourt noted that business and First Nations should be preparing for the opportunities that land-use certainty will bring once treaties are reached.


Anonymous said...

I certainly have supported modern treaties since the beginning of the process in BC. Sechelt had a agreement but the membership voted against it anyway. They claimed the process wasn't open enough. I sat through dozens of meetings , 70 or more main table, many more as a member of an Advisory Committee. I represented a lof of non Indian occupiers on land set aside in BC and made presentations in a lot of places including the standing Committee meetings around the Nisga'a Treaty, which of course was not under the Treaty Commission system. A lot of those meetings were heavily represented by people from Sechelt first nation. The previous government in this province had a lot of policy papers covering a lot of things but when Campbell took over, those papers went somewhere not accessible. One issue thrashed out a lot was extra land as treaty settlement lands. It was to be under the Agricultural Land reserve if already there. Now we hear down around Tsawassen that isn't going to be the case. That item alone will be a hard sell. If I'm wrong on that point I hope someone can steer me to a different conclusion. By the way , when the Campbell government took over, the third party advisory committees disappeared leaving only the group representing the municipalities. Don't hold your breath yet Paul.

Anonymous said...

I find it extremely frustrating to follow the treaty process. Very few citizens ever showed up at public meetings, and even fewer ever showed up at main table negotiations. Yeah It's me again 7:48. I recall seeing two MLA's at a signing event for Sechelt.It was on openness.

Never saw one again, except for the Minister,John Cashore. Mike Harcourt made it a condition that the public should and could be at the meetings.

There are massive ramifications involved, that will affect not only a few band members, but when somebody actually raises the issue of Treaty people shy away from the subject. Then later on down the road the frantic comments start coming out due to the lack of knowledge on the issues. I recall some of the BS being spread by some presenters in front of the Standing Committee. It got so bad at times that even a Liberal MLA started correcting some church group who were totally out to lunch.And at the time he was no big supporter of the Nisga'a agreement. Some folks simply show up at such events and show their lack of knowledge on the subject at hand.

So the years go by, the costs get bigger, the results are few and the court cases burn up a lot of money . It's turned into a growth industry. Now and again someone writes something, usually about the same time the Commission does a update. I recall a debate where a Indian professional complete with a PHD, was arguing with a treaty negotiator that no treaty work should be done for a very large number of years. His other line was, you Europeans should all go back to where you came from. The negotiator sorted him out by simply asking what resources will disappear in those many years.And his great grandfather was born here as well , Ditto for his dad and himself.

My Gosh, two articles this week. One from Paul and one from Leyne of the T/C. This is serious stuff and will affect us all. Now it's time to go back to sleep for another year.

Anonymous said...

Just checking back to see if anyone has the burning desire to add something about the treaty business. so far no change. But the Annual reports of the Treaty Commission are always a good read, even when all they do is tell us how great things are moving along.I sort of quit expecting much the week the present government took over and access became less. But it was a good 10 years finding out just how screwed up things are in BC.I recall Brian Smith and others talking about the need for treaties for business. I was shocked to find that a Indian can't on his or her own do a will. The DIAND has to check it out. And the worst hurdle is section 28 of the Indian Act that says roughly. "Any agreement written of oral by a Indian is not legal". so a great percentage of leases o land set aside are just paper. What a way to get people investing? I think not. Another kicker is that even when a Indian woman goes to the Human Rights and they admit she is getting shafted, tehy have to admit they have no jurisdiction. Periodically governemts promise to change that little item, but it somehow never gets done.

When I first made a presentation I suggested three options. a)Status Quo which is a mess. b)Modern Treaties, c)lots of changes to the Indian Act. Our 35,000 members had and they still have no legal standing. I don't represent the non Indian Occupiers anymore. I sold our house at a loss and went downtown. I could go on but why bother. It's a bloody mess. Nice try Paul but futile right now

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul, It's me again to talk about treaties somewhere down the road. What spurred me on again, is the arrival of my copy of the Treaty Commission report. it's called Six perspectives on treaty making. Another hing that caught my eye was the released study about how women in isolated places and reserves don't fare as well as ones in the bigger towns. The odds of getting beaten is higher the farther they are from the big smoke.
The issue of treatment of Indian women interest those of us who actually lived or live on land set aside. The Human Rights Commission has a number of cases they worked on , stated the woman was being mistreated, but sorry we have no jurisdiction. The Commission chair has stated before that even with modern treaties, they might not be allowed to rule. Just another issue that makes the treaty making so difficult. One doesn't have to believe me, just ask your MP.The Indian Act, we are told periodically is about to change. the present government talked about it last week and the issue was treatment of women and property. And as usual the changes don't happen. If a Indian woman marries a non Indian and leaves the reserve, should the marriage break down or he dies, she will not be allowed back. If a Non Indian woman marries a Indian he should die or they separate, she will lose the house in most cases.
This country of ours rattles on about fairness yet does little to help a woman who is getting beat up on a regular basis. WE lived on land set aside for a number of years. If anyone wants to prove me wrong. Come right ahead. The study can be seen on the Globe and Mail today

Anonymous said...

You wrote a good column on issues that should be of interest to all of us, if even for the basest reasons, about money.
You got replies, from one guy! Me. Either the BC citizens don't understand the principals of treaty, are afraid to look a bit dumb by asking off the wall stuff, put their total trust in politicians and paid staff or most scary, don't give a damn. It's so easy to look the other way for years then get a bit rabid when the long worked on items actually get into the house. Some Liberal MLA raised issues that in his mind means he won't support the latest attempts. If Gordon supports it, he better as well. An awful way to represent other people. His complain seems to be around taxation. The taxation issues have been worked on for many years. BC had a position, which I believe is still in the system that everyone will pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else. There is a condition for income tax deferrals for about seven years to get things rolling.

As a non Indian occupier I paid taxes directly to the band for services.Sopme municipaliityes got upset as they were losing a tax base for which they didn't have to provide any services. Of course BC and federal as well for income. The bands were exempt from paying the property ones as under the Indian Act they don't own the land. And they exempted themsleves because the fed had allowed that to happen
It's depressing to see elected officials spouting off about things they don't bother to learn even the basics about. However I do recall a MLA, now a minister email me with some of the dumbest questions I ever heard from anyone. That guy was on a Treaty Advisory Committee for municipalities. a hour or so of his listening to anyone in the system would have answered those question. Each time I see him talking on TV or read him in the press I wonder if he has any better idea of the subject he is on about than the lack of understanding he had about treaty processes. Oh well, another year , and maybe some change.