by Peter O’Neil; CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
OTTAWA – Federal, provincial and aboriginal negotiators have concluded what would be the first final agreement under the costly 13-year B.C. treaty process.
“It’s quite historic,” said Mark Stevenson, chief negotiator for the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, a 312-person community living in and around Prince George, B.C.
If the deal is formally endorsed by the governments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, the community will get $27 million up front, $400,000 a year over 50 years, 4,330 hectares of land, fishing and logging rights, and a constitutionally protected system of self-government, according to the B.C. Treaty Commission.
Jody Wilson, acting chief of the treaty commission, said the $47-million deal marks a ”new chapter” in the relationship between governments and B.C. First Nations.
”This agreement is an important milestone in our B.C. treaty process, one that we have been struggling towards for 13 years,” she said in a prepared statement.
The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation struck an agreement-in-principle (AIP) with the federal and B.C. governments in 2003, and is one of six in the province with completed AIPs.
The 2003 deal called for $12.8 million in cash for the band, far less than the final tally.
The only modern comprehensive treaty involving B.C. bands was the 1999 Nisga’a accord, though that deal was negotiated outside the B.C. treaty process.
The old Reform party, which Harper helped create in the late 1980s with Preston Manning, vehemently opposed the Nisga’a deal in Parliament. MPs argued at the time that the deal gave First Nations special rights that violated the principle that all Canadians are equal.
The Harper government has been harshly criticized by Campbell, other premiers, and federal opposition MPs for killing the $5 billion 2005 Kelowna accord that was intended to dramatically improve the lives of aboriginal Canadians.
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has stressed the government is looking for practical measures to improve the social and economic standing of First Nation communities. However, Harper rattled native leaders recently by saying he would end so-called ”race-based” commercial fishing rights, since fishing agreements are a key component of many treaty talks.
The Lheidli T’enneh fish deal allocates up to 10,000 sockeye annually to the band for ”food, social and ceremonial” purposes and another 6,000 for commercial sale. Stevenson stressed that the fishing agreement is a side deal outside the treaty and isn’t constitutionally protected.
He added that the band’s commercial fishery won’t take place unless there is a concurrent commercial opening for other fishermen.
The band, according to the treaty commission, will also get 107,000 cubic metres of ”long-term wood supply.”
Stevenson said Campbell played a critical leadership role.
”This would not have been achieved if it weren’t for premier Campbell.”
Roughly one-third of band members live on the Fort George reserve near Shelley, about 20 kilometres northeast of Prince George. The rest live in Prince George, where the band will own 1,000 hectares of unoccupied Crown land.
The self-government accord will give the band control of a variety of social services and education up to Grade 12, Stevenson said.
© CanWest News Service 2006
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