Treaty negotiation process must be opened up
Considering the B.C. Treaty Commission has been in operation since December 1993, and considering its mandate is to facilitate negotiations among the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations of B.C., and considering the First Nations have so far laid claim to 111 per cent of the province, very little has been heard about the commission or the whole treaty negotiation process.
In December 1993 the Squamish Nation registered a claim for traditional territories, which include the entire Whistler Valley, with the B.C. Treaty Commission. Private or fee simple land is not part of the negotiations.
The Squamish treaty negotiations have advanced to stage 3 in a six stage process with very little public awareness. Stage 3 includes the negotiation of a framework for agreement. But exactly what might be in that framework is difficult to determine.
Representatives of the federal and provincial governments are negotiating with the Squamish Nation, apparently using some formula to determine land claims, but they haven't let anyone else in on what that formula is.
A treaty advisory committee, made up of representatives of local governments in the areas affected by the Squamish Nation claim, has established a research and co-ordination budget of $165,000 for this year. What they are going to research and co-ordinate when they don't have a seat at the negotiating table is also open to interpretation.
Regardless, the municipal governments within the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District have been asked to provide 25 per cent of the budget.
Last week Whistler council was informed of another claim, by the Anderson Lake, Douglas and In-Shuck-ch bands, which includes most of Garibaldi Park. The Mount Currie band is apparently considering a claim as well. Presumably Whistler and Pemberton will be asked to fund the treaty advisory committees for those claims as well.
There is no doubt that the natives of British Columbia, who never signed treaties, have legitimate claims to parts of the province. As well, negotiating settlements of native land claims would bring an end to the doubt and uncertainty surrounding land issues in B.C.
But the federal and provincial governments are dealing with a matter that affects all British Columbians, including the people who will be paying the cost of settlements. The process must be more open.
– Bob Barnett