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Treaty process too slow

TlaAmins chief negotiator doesnt buy explanation for long wait

by Laura Walz editor@prpeak.com With the 20th anniversary of the BC treaty process less than a year away, BC Treaty Commission officials say it is time to shake up the status quo. Only two treaties have been implemented in that time, Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth first nations. The federal government is expected to ratify a treaty with Yale First Nation this fall.

When the BC Treaty Commission released its annual report for 2011, Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner, said the entire process should be shut down if the glacial pace of negotiations can’t be fixed. All parties must accept some of the responsibility for the lack of urgency in treaty negotiations, she also said.

Tla’Amin, Canada and BC negotiators initialled Tla’Amin’s final agreement on October 21. Negotiators actually shook hands on the final agreement in June 2010. Tla’Amin and BC quickly signalled they were ready to initial the document, but it was stalled in Ottawa for over a year as the federal government reviewed it.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan, who is the MP for North Island, said the lengthy review was due to the fishery provision in the agreement. “We had a unique circumstance where we wanted to address the fishery issue,” he told the Peak during an interview before the initialling ceremony at Tla’Amin on October 21. “That required an additional mandate and it took some investigation and review. It just took some time and it took place right at the time when there was a transition to me from the previous minister. We wanted to make sure we got it right so there were no implications for any other treaties, because there’s something like 60 tables going on across the country and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t have any further issue with this. So it’s a one-off and it’s fixed.”

The fisheries provision that’s included in Tla’Amin’s final agreement is the provision the negotiators signed off on, Duncan also said. When asked why there was a delay when the negotiators had signed off on the provision, Duncan said the negotiator had to seek a mandate after the provision had been agreed to. “That meant I had to seek a mandate as well,” he said. “Always when you get to the end of a negotiation, there’s always little things that come up that weren’t necessarily predicted. I’m just happy that it was resolved.”

Duncan also said he recognized that Tla’Amin did have to wait. “It was very important to me to be here,” he said. “I can’t make every signing ceremony or initialling ceremony, but for sure I wanted to be here, for historic reasons, but also for that, for the reason that they had to wait.”

Duncan pointed out that the federal government has had to wait for community ratifications as well. “It’s not a one-way street,” he said.

Tla’Amin Chief Negotiator Roy Francis said he doesn’t buy Duncan’s explanation about the delay, “not one ounce of it. The premise is that each party comes to the table with a mandate and I think it’s just preposterous that they’re seeking a mandate so late in the game.”

Francis said he believes there was a mandate and that it was changed “unilaterally. That’s just not acceptable.”

But having said that, Francis credited Duncan with leadership in getting to the initialling of the final agreement. Francis said he and other Tla’Amin community members approached Duncan during the official opening of the Homalco First Nation health building in Campbell River last July. “We talked about waiting 13 months, losing staff, losing resources, and honestly, I think he did something. I think it was him that made the difference to get it to initialling.”

Francis also agreed with Pierre about the slowness of the treaty process. “Her message needs to be heard and respected,” he said.

Meanwhile, Duncan has hired former Campbell River Mayor Jim Lornie to prepare a report about the slowness of the treaty process. He said he expects the report to be completed by January 2012.