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

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

Just Posted

Phase-by-phase look at how Greater Victoria Public Libraries will reopen

GVPL to quarantine returned material for a minimum of 72 hours before lending again

Person finds bag of drugs while out for walk in Langford

Police ask residents, drivers to check surveillance footage

Sooke Country Market returns for 25th year

In person market to only feature farmers, opens June 6

One in custody after two men stabbed in Victoria

Police arrest suspect morning after stabbings on Pandora Avenue

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Stepdad able to walk bride down the aisle days before he passes away

Ceremony held amidst pandemic in order to fulfill bride’s wish to have stepdad give her away

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

State of Local Emergency declared for Boundary as communities brace for river flooding

Warm weather and heavy rain could cause sections of Kettle River system to swell beyond 2018 levels

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Minneapolis cop who knelt on man’s neck charged with murder

Arrest comes after three days of protests, which escalated in violence as demonstrators torched a police precinct

Police watchdog recommends charges against five Mounties in Prince George man’s death

Police used pepper spray on the man, who then had trouble breathing before dying at the scene

Most Read