Nuu-chah-nulth takes lead role in treaties

Ha-Shilth-Sa, January 26, 2006

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Vice-president Michelle Corfield shows the book Titled “Island First Nations Framework for the Completion of Treaties”

Port Alberni — 

The Nuu-chah-nulth Treaty Table, along with Ditidaht / Pacheedaht and three Hamatla Nations (We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and K’omoks) presented a plan to resolve treaties to Andy Scott, Federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and Tom Christensen, BC Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

Titled “Island First Nations Framework for the Completion of Treaties”, the proposal aims to resolve outstanding negotiating and mandate issues by taking problems to the political level, rather than having them sink in the mire of bureaucratic systems.

“It’s a proposed framework that would change the way governments negotiate treaties, and moves some of the barriers at the bureaucratic level to the political level where they can be discussed and fixed,” said NTC vice-president Michelle Corfield. “We’re not advancing in treaty negotiations because the federal and provincial mandates haven’t changed, and politicians haven’t made any attempts to improve the process,” she said. “The most important aspects of the proposal include having the government look at individual First Nations circumstances for settling treaties rather than simply applying a one-size-fits-all per capita funding formula.”

According to Corfield, recent announcements made at the federal and provincial levels may sound good, but they have little effect at treaty tables throughout the province.

“We have this ‘New Relationship’ agreement with BC, but we haven’t seen any action on the ground,” said Corfield. “These things just aren’t filtering down through the bureaucratic channels and we need to change that. So instead of getting in fights with bureaucrats, we’re going to skip them all together and go straight to their bosses,” she said.

The 105-page plan maps out the 24 pages of what could become a treaty, and mostly contains clauses already negotiated with Nuu-chah-nulth. The document does have a couple hooks however.

 In the chapter dealing with parks, the document proposes that if Canada or British Columbia “alter the status of the lands and/or resources contained in any Park or Protected area … without the consent of the affected First Nation … shall become First Nations Treaty Lands”.

According to Corfield, the purpose of the proposal is to “break the log jam” of BC First Nations at the fourth stage of the six-stage BC treaty process.

The document also recommends that governments either forgive the repayable (80%) portion of negotiation loans, or, upon signing a final agreement, the government provide the First Nation with additional funding to cover the loan amount, which would then be returned to the government.

According to Corfield, the purpose of the proposal is to “break the log jam” of BC First Nations at the fourth stage of the six-stage BC treaty process. “The BCTC seven-stage process for treaty negotiations has worked to the benefit of the governments and to the disadvantage of First Nations,” she said.

The NTC was also successful at having the framework document accepted at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa this past December, and getting a motion bringing the AFN on board to address the limited mandate issue and push for the successful negotiation of treaties in BC.

In a response from Andy Scott to the Chiefs of the Island First Nations, the Minister threw the issue back on the bureaucrats, saying “I suggest that you discuss your proposals with Canada’s negotiators and their counterparts from British Columbia at treaty negotiation tables”.

The NTC was also successful at having the framework document accepted at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa this past December, and getting a motion bringing the AFN on board to address the limited mandate issue and push for the successful negotiation of treaties in BC.

The document has now been sent to every First Nation in BC, and the Chiefs will meet again to strategize about their next steps after presenting the plan at the BC First Nations Summit Chief Negotiators meeting on January 20th.

By David Wiwchar

Ha-Shilth-Sa Reporter