Sign on the dotted line… please
The In-Shuck-Ch/N'Quatqua flag hangs limply in the still, dense air of the Signal Hill gym in Pemberton. To the left of the flag is the red and white of the Canadian standard, to the right the colours of British Columbia.
In front of the three pieces of silk sit their respective representatives — Gerard Peters of the In-Shuck-ch/N'Quatqua, Robin Dodson of Canada and Gordon Douglas of B.C. They are the three main players in the In-Shuck-Ch/N'Quatqua treaty negotiations that kicked off publicly Monday night in the muggy school gym.
In fact, the negotiations have been going on for quite some time as the three players have had to set up terms of reference regarding how the negotiation process can begin. There's much talk of public input and an open process — today the process opens up.
In front of Gerard Peters sit about 90 people — the number of native and non-native faces in the crowd is about equal. With a straightforward demeanour and honest talk Peters tells the crowd that if he felt the negotiation process was not open he would "take his people and walk."
Also at the head table are representatives from the environmental community, loggers and local government.
Walking in Gerard Peters' footsteps may not be easy as he, Dodson and Douglas prepares to embark on a process that will affect natives, non-natives, natural resources, lands and just about everything else that makes up this province — but can it work?
The Canadian flag is a symbol of cultural degradation, historical humiliation, fiduciary neglect, incarceration and over one hundred years of aboriginal "genocide," as Mount Currie's Vern Shanoss put it, his voice shaking over the PA system. Meanwhile, successive provincial governments have ignored the land claims of B.C.'s native people for one hundred years, while managing the land and resources of the native people into a patchwork of mines, clearcuts and provincial parks.
So what's to negotiate?
"It seems to me all three of the parties are doing this (treaty negotiations) for different reasons and I find that troublesome," Peters says. "We have to do what is necessary to correct the mistake of history."
Not so, according to federal negotiator Dodson.
"From the point of view of the federal government, treaty making is about the future, not about the past," Dodson says as snickers run through the crowd.
The In-Shuck-ch/N'Quatqua are one of 44 native groups in B.C. that are involved in the six-stage treaty negotiation process. The Reform Party of B.C. and the opposition Liberals have complained the process has not been open enough to this point.
The NDP government has been trying to manage public relations problems that have arisen out of the talks, including a rumoured 60 "Interim Measures," intended to keep the business of the province running while treaties are being negotiated. No one at Monday's meeting really wanted to talk about the interim agreements as they have become the most controversial aspect of the treaty process to date. Many feel that "interim" measures will probably be interpreted by courts as binding treaty-like deals.
And as all the players sit down around the table to try and sign a treaty fin de siècle, they will inevitably come back to the public for some type of input — what it will be remains to be seen.