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TlaAmin plans to sue Canada

Chief accuses federal government of bad faith treaty negotiations
Laura Walz

Tla’Amin (Sliammon) First Nation is planning to take the federal government to court for not approving an agreement reached by chief negotiators over a year ago.

In a letter to John Duncan, minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, Tla’Amin Chief Clint Williams and chief negotiator Roy Francis wrote that Tla’Amin is preparing to initiate a claim for bad faith negotiations against the federal government.

Click here to view the letter to John Duncan.

On June 10, 2010, chief negotiators for Tla’Amin, BC and Canada reached an agreement on a final treaty. While Tla’Amin and BC are prepared to initial the agreement, Canada is not. The federal government has been reviewing the agreement for over a year.

Tla’Amin’s letter noted that Duncan, negotiators and staff have worked hard to have the treaty initialled. “We are nevertheless concerned with reports that our Member of Parliament, John Weston, is seeking to undermine our treaty and may be responsible for the current delay,” the letter stated. “We have heard that there may be pressures from other anti-treaty interests both inside and outside the Conservative caucus that are also seeking to block the approval of our treaty.”

Tla’Amin has been negotiating a treaty for more than 15 years and the band has borrowed more than $10 million to pay for the process.

The community is growing “very cynical about the treaty,” the letter continued. “We do not have an explanation that would provide any positive light on the matter. The responsibility rests with Canada and we are calling upon you to do your part to reverse a very negative attitude that is growing in our community by helping rebuild trust in the federal government.”

Mary Polak, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation for the province, said to the Peak during a visit to Tla’Amin on Friday, July 8, that she is concerned over the delay. She said she has been in contact with Duncan and does not understand why the process is taking so long.

“As it is we have not been made aware of any specific issue that the federal government has with it,” said Polak. “I’m at a loss to explain why there’s a delay and in particular when we have other agreements going forward...This is having a huge negative impact on Tla’Amin, not just in terms of the treaty itself but in their day-to-day operations right now.”

The long delay is eroding trust in the entire BC treaty process, said Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission. “There are questions about the whole commitment to treaties by the federal government,” she said. “The other tables, they’re not stupid. They watch what’s going on and they are questioning it. We are really concerned about that because we work very hard in this office to try and maintain a process that is fair.”

The treaty commission is considered the keeper of the process, Pierre said. “We take that very, very seriously,” she said. “When the process is being jeopardized by the actions of one of the principals, then we have to question that action and that’s what we’ve done.”

Pierre was in Ottawa in early June and met with Duncan, as well as senior ministry officials, to talk about Tla’Amin’s treaty. “The answer that we received is that it is being reviewed,” she said. “Well, we need a little bit more detail than that. What is this review? Why is Sliammon’s final agreement going through this lengthy review that the other treaties have not gone through?”

A spokesperson for Duncan, Michelle Yao, emailed this response to the Peak. “Our government recognizes the importance of this treaty to the first nation. To that end, we are working to address this as quickly as possible. There have been some delays in the federal review, but it is important to note that our government remains firmly committed to the treaty process.”

The Peak was not able to speak to Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, but he emailed the following comment: “I’ve taken initiative to resolve issues of concern to the Sliammon, including issues brought to my attention by Chief Clint Williams.

“I’ve acted expeditiously at every turn, and dealt with the proposed Sliammon treaty as a priority. Our government recognizes the importance of this treaty to the first nation. To that end, we are working to address this as quickly as possible.