B.C. gov’t, natives ink treaty worth more than $76 million
Miro Cernetig email@example.com
CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun
Monday, October 30, 2006
VANCOUVER — A historic treaty worth in excess of $76 million is being proposed with a tiny northern B.C. Indian nation, awarding the 320 Carrier Indians a share of the province’s salmon fishery, forests, hydroelectricity and a major chunk of real estate within the city of Prince George.
“Today we witnessed a significant milestone in the history of reconciliation of First Nations rights and title in British Columbia,” Premier Gordon Campbell said Sunday after unveiling the proposed “historic agreement” in a ceremony in Prince George.
“I think there’s no question we can afford it,” he added in an interview.
The treaty initialed by the B.C. government, the federal government and the leaders of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation will now be put to a vote by the natives. In per capita terms, band members stand to gain in excess of $200,000 each and about 135 hectares of land, about one quarter of it within the city of Prince George.
However, there will be a price for the natives, too, to carve out a treaty.
They must give up their status as an Indian reserve and thus would begin paying taxes, like other Canadians, after an eight- to 12-year period. Most of their lands would also become “fee simple”, meaning they would be subject to common laws. Resources bases they obtain, from salmon to hydropower sources and forests, would
be managed with provincial and federal laws.
If the natives support the deal and their leader, Chief Chief Dominic Frederick seems confident enough that he has set a 70-per-cent threshold for approval the proposed treaty would then go to Parliament and the provincial legislature for final ratification.
It all signals a major watershed that could change the face of British Columbia, where Premier Campbell has called for a “new relationship” with aboriginals.
Not only would this be the first treaty involving a major swath of urban land, making the treaty process a daily part of life for all residents of Prince George, there are dozens of others that would likely follow the same model.
But the proposed Lheidli T’enneh treaty, as well as the others that will soon follow mostly likely the $60-million-plus Tsawwassen treaty that’s already been drafted by negotiators are already drawing fire.
“I do worry that we may be signing away too much of this province’s resources,” said Phil Eidsvik, the head of the Fisheries Survival Coalition. “We may have things like Electronic Arts now, but it’s resources that built this province and still are.”
Eidsvik, a commercial fisherman who has a solid base of support with the federal Conservative Party, is a fierce opponent of any treaty giving aboriginals guaranteed quotas within the commercial salmon fishery, arguing it will squeeze out non-aboriginal fishermen.
Over the last decade, he has fought against a “racially based fishery” and found a deep well of support within the old Reform party and the current Conservative federal government. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently published a letter opposing a “racially divided” west coast fishery and his MP, John Cummins, has echoed the sentiment.
The Lheidli T’enneh proposed treaty would give the first nation a 0.7 per cent quota of the commercial salmon catch, though this is included in a side deal. That would allow some to argue aboriginals aren’t being given a constitutionally entrenched commercial fishing right that other Canadians lack.
“With those types of (quota) numbers in this proposed treaty they’re really saying there will be no room for anyone but aboriginal fishermen,” he said. “There just won’t be enough fish to go around with all the other treaties yet to come. I think the Prime Minister is being snookered by his junior ministers.”
But Sunday’s deal indicates Harper has altered his view. The prime minister, known for his micromanaging style, allowed his Native Affairs Minster, Jim Prentice, to initial the proposed treaty and sing its praises.
“This treaty will help Canada, British Columbia and Lheidli T’enneh develop a new government-to-government relationship that will benefit local businesses and citizens by clarifying the rights, responsibilities and jurisdictions of each level of government,” said Prentice.
Another issue is that the Lheidli T’enneh would be given more than 600 hectares in the Agricultural Land Reserve. That will raise the ire of environmentalists and many in the Lower Mainland who are opposed to similar rezoning of agricultural land proposed in the Tsawwassen treaty.
But Premier Campbell also rejected any idea that the province is putting too much on the table to settle treaties and said that the proposed deal actually ensures that aboriginals will face the same laws and have the same rights as other fishermen.
He anticipates two other proposed deals, including the proposed Tsawwassen treaty, to be ready for the ratification process within the next few months.
“It is not an enormous amount of land,” he said of Sunday’s deal. “If you look at the area concerned, these are very small pieces of land in lots of ways.”
“These are reasonable capital transfers,” he added, saying that in the long-run billions of dollars that once flowed out of B.C. to Ottawa, which oversees most native affairs, would be staying in B.C. as treaties allow natives to move toward self-government.
Although he anticipates some opposition, Campbell warned against a “game of arithmetic” as the costs of the treaties add up, probably into the billions of dollars. Enormous future benefits will be brought by bringing aboriginals into the economy as full partners and creating a climate of “certainty” for investors.
“This initialing will contribute to improving the business and investment climate in the province,” agreed Jerry Lampert, president of the BC Business Council. “We believe that Final Agreements (treaties) pave the way for
partnerships to grow between the business community, First Nations and governments.”
Vancouver Sun – © CanWest News Service 2006
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