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Treaty commission swamped by anxious First Nations


Windspeaker Staff, Vancouver







Page 5

First Nations in British Columbia appear anxious to begin the treaty rights negotiations process.

The B.C. Treaty Commission was swamped with 29 statements of intent to negotiate treaty rights Dec. 15, its first day of operation, by band and tribal councils from across the province.

And another seven First Nations governments had submitted their notices by press time Dec. 21.

"There were no surprises in terms of the numbers," Chief Commissioner Chuck Connaghan said. "We had indications that people were very anxious to get moving and get moving very quickly."

The commission, which was appointed last spring under an agreement signed by

the First Nations Summit, the province and Ottawa, is trying to accommodate an "understandable" frustration within the First Nations, he said.

"We're catching up to everybody else in the country."

Most First Nations in B.C. are without treaties. When the province entered Confederation in 1871, the only treaties in effect were the 14 agreements on southern Vancouver Island, covering about 358 square miles.

Part of Treaty Eight was later extended into northern B.C. from Alberta in the 1890s.

Treaties between the Crown and the First Nations traditionally outlined territorial claims to such things as land, hunting, fishing and resource rights, Connaghan said. But these new agreements will have to cover more.

"In our system, everything is on the table; governance, hunting, land compensation, all of that. It's up to the government to work it out."

The commissioners reviewed the majority of submissions Dec. 16 and 17. Applications outlined issues such as Native government constituencies, the types of government and the locations and size of traditional territories.

Filing the notices was only the first step in a six-step process. When the commission decides it has all the information it needs it will arrange a meeting between the province, the federal government and the individual First Nations.

Once a negotiation process is agreed to, a treaty can be worked out, ratified and enacted.

The commission's role is to help the process along without actually negotiating on anyone's behalf.

The commission will also channel funding to First Nations from the federal and provincial governments to prepare for the negotiations.