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Treaty process already creating jobs

Province and Tlaamin sign final agreement

An important milestone was reached on Saturday, March 15, with the signing of the Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation final agreement by the province of BC and Tla’amin.

Tla’amin chief Clint Williams and members of Tla’amin community joined aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister John Rustad, federal government representatives and numerous leaders from other first nations who gathered to show support at the signing ceremony at Dwight Hall in Townsite (Tees Kwat).

With the tip of a pen to paper, three signatures mark a step forward toward an independent Tla’amin nation.

“It’s a process that had its very beginnings back in 1994,” said Tla’amin lead treaty negotiator Roy Francis when interviewed by the Peak prior to the ceremony. “It began as an informal process to identify what goals and objectives we had for ourselves as a community, and grew into what it is now. It has helped us to define who we are from a historical perspective and to define what our long-term goals are to ensure the health and prosperity of the Tla’amin nation for generations to come.”

Francis said it was not always easy working with the provincial, city and regional governments to find common ground in engaging the treaty process. The good working relationship came over time and with hard work.

“It started out as a real challenge,” he said. “In the early stages the regional district [Powell River Regional District] had concerns that we wanted to have Lund and area converted to treaty lands. These were part of the tax base for the district and they weren’t too happy about it at first. It took a lot of negotiation and relationship building through the first six or seven years before they could support it and work collaboratively with us to a common goal.”

Francis said when Tla’amin first set out to explore the notion of becoming an independent nation within Canada the model for achieving treaty agreements was still something that was new. No one knew what to expect. “It’s been about 20 years—since 1994 I believe—that the background work really began. There was nothing specific in terms of a treaty process back then. The conversation was more about discovering who we are as a community.” He said the community identified what was important: more jobs, a healthier lifestyle, affordable housing. “Once we compiled our wish list we had to figure out where to go from there. How do we start digging in to make those things happen?”

Shortly after this, Francis said, dialogue around community vitality began and the treaty process started to evolve on the federal government level.

BC Treaty Commission was the first point of contact for Tla’amin. In the beginning there were a handful of other nations that had already started to work with the provincial and federal governments. All vested interests worked together to form the six-stage process that would eventually lead to a final treaty.

“After our initial statement of intent we started gathering research and pulling together what we called a traditional use study,” Francis said. The information included interviews with elders, documenting stories about fishing and hunting camps and settlements where people lived. It included searching documents at libraries and literature that mentioned the Tla’amin community in any way.

“The information we gathered helped to define our connection to the land,” Francis said. “From that research we were able to begin plotting traditional grounds on a map, which gave a well defined picture of our traditional territory.”

Through their research efforts, Tla’amin was able to determine that three Coast Salish nations shared traditional lands: the Homalco with traditional territory stretching up Bute Inlet; the Klahoose with its main community on the east shore of Cortes Island, and with traditional territory extending up the Toba Valley; and the Tla’amin people. Once the map was in place, it launched Tla’amin into a more serious level of negotiation.

“It was an important part of the process that history be established,” Francis said. “We looked at it as education from Sliammon, by Sliammon for Sliammon, but it went a long way to helping negotiations with local government as well.”

As the process began, Francis said, all three nations agreed they were one unit. “But as things progressed it was decided that Sliammon would move forward and represent itself, and the Klahoose and Homalco would proceed at their own pace,” he said. “We worked closely with them and we were always careful to try to respect the fact that they have a territory that extends beyond ours and to be respectful of their process.”

Where industry is concerned, Francis said that there was some displacement of logging and forestry interests while Tla’amin set out to begin contributing to the local economy. “We’ve established our own presence in the forestry industry,” he said. “We’re managing 100,000 cubic metres of timber. We’ve got crews and equipment on the ground. We are creating jobs.”

He said there was initially some resistance to that, as well. “Now I’m really seeing some positive changes. Aquaculture interests are developing. We’ve got oyster tenures, and geoduck tenures. We have mining interests on Texada where we’ve got two of our guys working with Lafarge [Canada Inc.]. We are slowly evolving into the fabric of the Powell River area and contributing to the economy.”

With the signatures on Saturday, the next step will be the treaty being taken to Ottawa to the federal government for a formal signing with Canada. Following this, the federal government will move into the last step in ratification with the recommendation of settlement legislation to Parliament.

“This signing marks a significant step along the path of reconciliation between the Tla’amin nation and British Columbia,” Rustad said. “The time it has taken to this point is a tribute to the importance of what we’re trying to achieve. This treaty will help provide a solid financial foundation to build a self-reliant and economically-viable community for the Tla’amin nation.”

Once legislation is passed Tla’amin, the federal government, and the province will work to complete the tasks required to bring the treaty into legal effect in April 2016.

“For Tla’amin, it is important to highlight that this final agreement signing took place in Tees Kwat, an original village site of the Tla’amin people,” said Williams. “Our community members witnessed and celebrated the signing of the agreement, which will lead us to a treaty that re-establishes our connection to our territories and sets the foundation for re-building the Tla’amin nation.”