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Ottawa trip proves useful for TlaAmin

Officials seek answers to why treaty has stalled
Laura Walz

Tla’Amin (Sliammon) First Nation representatives travelled to Ottawa last week to find out why a treaty agreement has been stalled by the federal government.

Tla’Amin Chief Clint Williams, Roy Francis, Tla’Amin’s chief negotiator, and City of Powell River Mayor Stewart Alsgard spent the day in the nation’s capital. They met with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Liberal MPs Bob Rae and Todd Russell, meetings arranged by Dan Veniez, Liberal candidate in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding.

Federal, provincial and Tla’Amin negotiators reached a deal in June 2010. Both Tla’Amin and the province have signed off on the negotiators’ understanding, but the federal government has not.

Williams said it was helpful that Alsgard made the trip, which the Sliammon Treaty Society paid for, because it illustrated the working relationship Tla’Amin has with the city and the Powell River Regional District. “It was a useful trip,” he said. “We wanted to get the ball rolling again because it’s been quite a lengthy time of waiting, when the other nations that were in the same boat as us only had to wait eight weeks. We’ve been waiting 10 months.”

Ignatieff and Rae both said they would look into the delay, Williams said. “They’re going to question some of the ministers, in a non-confrontational way, and just ask what the delay is,” he said.

Francis said he was encouraged. “I think we got people interested and wanting to find out on our behalf what the hold-up is in Ottawa,” he said. “We don’t know for sure, but I think we created some pressure in their decision-making process and I think we need that.”

Tla’Amin learned from Conservative MP John Weston, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, last January that he had some concerns about constitutional issues. On Wednesday, March 9, Weston released a statement on his website, called “Standing with Sliammon,” in which he states he remains committed to the people of Powell River, including members of Tla’Amin. He said Williams provided him with the terms of a draft treaty in December “which state that Sliammon law will prevail over Canadian law where the two laws conflict. I advised him that former Supreme Court of Canada judges have pointed out that such terms are unconstitutional, unwise and unfair.”

Weston also stated he has not slowed down the treaty process, “but have done my best to get the treaty right. I’ve made the treaty a priority and, whenever asked, responded quickly.”

Alsgard said the issue is not about doing battle with Weston. “It’s about one question,” he said. “What has been the choke point for the lack of initialling and signing off on this treaty?”

Patrick Brabazon, Electoral Area A director, reported on the issue at the March 10 regional district committee-of-the-whole meeting. He said he had a phone call with Weston and someone else who he declined to name, but who was “far more important” than Weston. He also spoke to Weston just before the committee meeting, Brabazon said. “I was not able to get a satisfactory answer,” he said. “It’s all stalled very high up.”

He’s been unable to find out why the federal government has not signed off on the negotiators’ agreement, Brabazon also said. “It’s a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. I told the people at the other end of the phone in Ottawa that I thought it unconscionable that they could sign off on a treaty in June and in the following February there is utter, utter silence.”