Resource rush ‘leaves treaties behind’

Commissioners say oil and gas development in north have pushed complex discussions to the back burner

Sophie Pierre

VICTORIA – The B.C. Treaty Commission issued its 21st annual report Tuesday, with a plea for federal and provincial governments not to abandon province-wide progress in a rush for resource development in the north.

While noting progress on several new treaties, chief commissioner Sophie Pierre said she is frustrated that the federal government has dragged its feet with studies, while the B.C. government has shifted focus to interim resource agreements as it pushes mining and gas development development in the north. Pierre warned that the rest of the province is being ignored, while First Nations have piled up debt for treaty talks that show little progress.

“There’s no need for more studies,” Pierre said. “Let’s just get it done.”

Asked if the independent treaty commission has outlived its usefulness, commissioner Dave Haggard was more blunt. Abandoning treaties means going back to court, and the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that Canada and B.C. must negotiate settlements for aboriginal rights and title, he said.

He said he is dismayed by the rush for oil and gas development across the north.

“Go through Terrace and Prince Rupert and Smithers and see what the oil companies are doing up there today,” Haggard said. “It’s almost laughable when you see what they’re trying to do, the first one through the door so they can buy off another Indian.

“That’s not how it’s going to happen with First Nations in that part of the world. They’re going to sit down at the table and have a fair and just set of negotiations for occupying and use of the land and the resources that are there.”

Pierre said she supports resource sharing agreements for mines and forests, but they still leave communities under the control of the Indian Act. She singled out the long federal delay in deciding how salmon resources should be shared.

“How can you go seven years without a mandate on fish?” Pierre said. “For coastal First Nations, fish is like air.”

The Yale First Nation in the Fraser Canyon had its treaty approved by the House of Commons this spring, joining the Tsawwassen First Nation in the Lower Mainland and the Maa-Nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island with full self-government. The Tla’amin First Nation near Powell River has had its treaty ratified provincially.

Community votes on final agreements are near for In-SHUCK-ch communities at Harrison Lake, K’omoks on Vancouver Island, and the Tsimshian communities of Kitselas and Kitsumkalum on the North Coast.

Agreements in principle are nearing completion for Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations near Port Renfrew, the Homalco on Bute Inlet, and the Katzie in the Lower Mainland.

Also making progress on final agreements for land and cash are the Namgis Nation on northern Vancouver Island, Nazko First Nation near Quesnel, Northern Shuswap Tribal Council around Williams Lake, Te’Mexw Treaty Association on southern Vancouver Island and the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations near Tofino.

The full report and a webcast of Pierre’s presentation are available here.


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