Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada announced on Wednesday, August 3, that Canada has finished its internal review of Tla’Amin (Sliammon) First Nation’s treaty and is ready to initial the treaty with Tla’Amin and the province of BC.
The announcement comes as the culmination of over a year of waiting for the federal government to review the treaty. The treaty itself has been in development for more than 15 years and the band borrowed $10 million over that period to pay for the process.
“Our government recognizes the importance of this treaty to the Sliammon First Nation and remains firmly committed to the treaty process,” said John Duncan, federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, in a press release. “We look forward to initialling this agreement in the near future.”
Roy Francis, chief negotiator for Tla’Amin, said that while it’s disappointing the process took so long he is excited for the announcement and to see the treaty move forward.
“I don’t believe it,” said Francis. “It’s been so long since we had good news...It’s been a long time and lot of work to get to a point where we have a final agreement that we can bring to the community for a vote. That’s a huge relief...We’re at a very important point in our work.”
Francis said the federal government offered no explanation for the cause of the delay but added that at this point Tla’Amin will be looking forward and pursuing answers. The legal action that Tla’Amin had publicly threatened against the federal government for “bad faith treaty negotiation” will not be going forward but Francis believes the threat helped speed up the process.
Representatives from Tla’Amin, including Francis, will meet with the province and federal government next week to discuss next steps before initialling the agreement. Francis expects a date for initialling to be decided upon in the next few weeks. Once initialled, the treaty will be printed for public review before going to a vote in Tla’Amin, which Francis expects to happen in eight or nine months.
West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP John Weston said he called Tla’Amin Chief Clint Williams, upon hearing of the news, to congratulate him. Weston said he is delighted by the news. “It’s a great milestone for the Tla’Amin First Nation. It’s a good example of how the government is committed to the treaty process. I thank Prime Minister [Steven] Harper and...John Duncan for the work they continue to do for the people of Powell River and our riding, including the Tla’Amin First Nation.”
“The Sliammon Final Agreement is the end result of a long hard-fought negotiation,” said Williams in the press release. “The agreement contains new assets and authorities and represents important changes for the Sliammon people. Initialling of the agreement will allow a ratification vote to proceed, and it is now rightfully in the hands of the Sliammon community to make a very historic decision.”
The province has been ready to initial the agreement for some time now and, in the press release announcing the news, Mary Polak, BC minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, expressed her enthusiasm.
“Congratulations to Chief Clint Williams and his community as they move closer to attaining a treaty for their people,” said Polak. “I know how much this means to Sliammon First Nation and share their desire to see this treaty initialled as soon as possible.”
In the lead up to the community vote Francis and others will be answering questions about the treaty and trying to clear up any misinformation that Francis feels is out in the community right now.
“Between now and that vote date we’re going to be out in the community with the whole goal of explaining all of the content of that agreement,” said Francis. “It’s an exciting time for us.”
If approved by eligible Tla’Amin voters, legislation will be introduced provincially to bring the treaty into effect.