Native Land Treaty 13 Years in the Making

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Native Land Treaty 13 Years in the Making
By: Am Johal, IPS
18 January 2007
 

The Tsawwassen First Nation’s final agreement was initialed on Dec. 8, 2006. This is the second final agreement initialed under the British Columbia (BC) treaty process -- which is working with a total of some 57 native groups -- and the first initialed in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, the urban centre of the province.

When the treaty comes into effect, the Tsawwassen will own their land outright and there will no longer be a designation for Indian reserves there. The land component is approximately 724 hectares.

Valerie Cross-Blackett, a Tsawwassen Band member who was involved in the negotiations, told IPS in an interview, "The agreement sets out the structure to address the key issues to support self-government and we are moving forward with the best deal that was possible."

"We can’t be afraid of change, there are clear benefits in this agreement and it is an opportunity to move out of the colonialism of the past 130 years in a way that will improve both the health and wealth of our people. We are part of system that does not allow us to break the cycle and be self-sufficient -- it was important to make changes and break that cycle in a long-term way," she said.

Cross-Blackett said that a vote amongst the Tsawwassen to ratify the agreement will likely happen by this summer, before the deal proceeds for final approval to the provincial and federal governments. She also said that self-government will be an important step for the Tsawwassen people to break out the governance of the Indian Act.

The final agreement will set out law-making authorities that the Tsawwassen may exercise on their lands. It will also allow the Tsawwassen government to become a member of the Greater Vancouver Regional District and appoint a director to sit on the regional district board.

The Tsawwassen First Nations first entered the modern-day treaty process in December 1993.

In March 2004, the Tsawwassen First Nation, the province of British Columbia and the Canadian government signed an agreement in principle. Since that time, substantive progress has been made at the Tsawwassen treaty table and negotiators reached a tentative deal on a final agreement in October 2006, led by Tsawassen Chief Kim Baird.

Tony Penikett, an expert in land claims negotiations and recent author of a book on the issue, told IPS in an interview, "The initialing of the Tsawwassen Land Claims Agreement is good for all sorts of reasons. Earlier agreements have taken almost 100 years to sign, but the modern BC Treaty Commission process, which has been in place since the early nineties, is finally yielding results."

"These agreements come with great complexity, issues of self-government and the need for approval by several levels of government which have differing agendas," he noted.

Penikett added that intergovernmental issues, taxation and land use continue to stall the process. However, he believes that building long-term relationships of trust will eventually lead to meaningful reconciliation since the courts have already recognised the existence of aboriginal title.

Over the next several months, the Tsawwassen First Nation will vote to ratify the agreement. If they do so, then the BC legislature and the federal Parliament would proceed by giving their assent for the treaty to take effect.

Doug McArthur, a professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University, says that the treaty is incredibly significant because of its connection with a contemporary urban setting.

In an interview with IPS, McArthur said, "One of the significant characteristics of this treaty is that it was negotiated in a complex urban setting that involved complex land use planning and management issues. As well, with the Tsawwassen joining the Greater Vancouver Regional District, there will continue to be very complex governance work ahead."

"The Tsawwassen should be g

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