Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Text Size

Vaughn Palmer: As Tsilhqot’in celebrate, treaty negotiation bills of other B.C. First Nations mount

Court decision underscores need to finalize treaties, says B.C. Treaty Commission boss

By Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun columnist

VICTORIA — When the Supreme Court of Canada handed down the landmark decision on aboriginal title at the end of last month, it raised new doubts about the already troubled B.C. treaty process.

The big winner in the case, the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, had deliberately shunned the government-mandated process for negotiating treaties in B.C., instead proceeding through the courts to secure recognition of aboriginal title.

Moreover, Tsilhqot’in legal costs were covered by the Crown throughout the 339-day B.C. Supreme Court trial that established the basis for the finding of title, now affirmed by the high court.

Whereas the dozens of First Nations that have opted into treaty negotiations have collectively racked up hundreds of millions in debt as their share of costs in a process that has been fruitless more often than not.

The contrast has provoked dark talk about the high court having made suckers out of the First Nations that joined the treaty process, and vindicated the hardliners who disdained it.

In the 20 years since the made-in-B.C. treaty process was established by the Mike Harcourt-led New Democratic Party government, less than a third of the roughly 200 recognized B.C. First Nations have joined the process and only a half-dozen treaties have been produced.

Moreover, according to the B.C. Treaty Commission (BCTC) website, among the 60 First Nations that are officially “in,” about a third have either put talks on hold or abandoned them altogether.

Wondering what this latest development might mean for a process that was already said to be on life support, I sought out Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre of the BCTC. She phoned in from Cranbrook, where she long served as chief of the St. Mary’s Indian Band and administrator for the Ktunaxa/Kinbasket Tribal Council.

Now in her sixth year with the commission, Pierre seized on the high court decision to reinforce the criticisms voiced by herself and the other commissioners in their annual updates on the negotiations.

“There is a whole basket of Supreme Court decisions that are in favour of First Nations,” said the chief commissioner, rattling off the list (Calder, Delgamuukw, Haida, etc.) by their legal shorthand. “It underscores the need for finalizing treaties.”

“What we need is strong mandates to get the treaties done,” and not, as she fears, a pretext for “another study of what this latest decision means.”

The latter comment was particularly directed at the federal government, which has been engaged in a series of exercises — the fiscal harmonization review followed by the results-based approach followed by the senior oversight committee — that together precluded progress in treaty talks for going on four years.

“No matter what it’s called, it’s still studying the issue rather than finding solutions,” as Pierre complained in a covering letter to the most recent annual report of the treaty commission.

The commission has also questioned the commitment of the provincial government, given a multi-year budget freeze and a preference for ad hoc deals with selected First Nations. “They deal only with those that they need today,” as Pierre said Monday.

Nor did First Nations escape mention in what the chief commissioner sees as the teachable moments provided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

“This decision underscores the need for First Nations to deal with shared territories and overlapping claims,” said Pierre, citing the high court finding that aboriginal titleholders have to be able to demonstrate that they occupied a given tract of land substantially, continuously and exclusively.

The Tsilhqot’in were able to do that for the 1,750 square kilometres of land that supplied the win in this case. But other parts of what they assert to be their traditional territories overlap with those of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council.

The Northern Shuswap have opted into the treaty process and are in the fourth stage where negotiations are focusing on agreement in principle on settlement lands, resources and cash compensation.

Under Pierre’s leadership, the commission has been encouraging all means up to and including mediation and binding arbitration to sort out overlapping territories, including disputes between participants like the Northern Shuswap and holdouts like the Tsilhqot’in. “We have brought some tables together that have never spoken before,” she told me.

She also drew my attention to the way that successive delays are fuelling the growing anxiety among First Nations about the money they’ve borrowed to finance the costs of treaty negotiations.

The tally as of last year was half a billion dollars, spread over 50 bands and repayable out of the cash portion of treaty settlements. In some instances, the cumulative debt approaches the amount that the band might reasonably expect to receive from a treaty.

Especially galling to First Nations that joined the process in good faith while others held out for two decades and counting. In fairness, Pierre urges governments to adopt an “exit strategy” that would include at least a measure of loan forgiveness.

All part of what I took to be a warning that the latest court decision is not so much a reason to pull the plug on a troubled process as a final wake-up call if it is to be saved.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Education & Training

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...


obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit


First Nations Cultural Interpreter PM – 02 Riding Mountain National Park Seasonal Indeterminate

(May to October) From $54,543 to $58,764

Closing Sept. 19, 2014

Read More

Regional Media Officer– Temp (Until Nov 2015) –F/T Position

Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition / NDP Research Office

Location:131 Queen Street, Suite 10-02, Ottawa, ON


Communicate regularly with regional media outlets (community newspapers, radio stations, student media, ethnic media, etc.) to propose ideas for interviews and opinion content Read more...

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Aboriginal Workforce Report

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a report that highlights initiatives to improve the workforce participation of Aboriginal peoples. 

Opportunity Found: Improving the Participation of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s Workforce (December 2013)  

click image to download report

Tue Sep 23 @ 3:00PM - 04:15PM
FNHMA National Conference 2014
Sun Oct 05 @ 9:00AM - 05:00PM
INIHKD & Manitoba NEAHR Conference 2014


September 2014
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 1 2 3 4

Current Video

RIP Percy Tuesday


Thanks to Althea Guiboche for allowing The First Perspective to share her video taken at the Manitowapow book launch at McNally Robinson. 

Percey sings Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and people join in to harmonize. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): The Washington Redskins