More than 220 chiefs, treaty negotiators, spectators and media members jammed into the Hyatt Regency's ballroom in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 11 to witness the formal Nuu-chah-nulth treaty offer exchange.
British Columbia's Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, David Zirnhelt, billed the government's offer as the largest in the province's treaty-making history, the event also marked the first time the province, First Nations and Canada have exchanged offers, rather than the province and Canada simply presenting their side of an offer.
Chief negotiator for the province, Trevor Proverbs, and Eric Denhoff, Canada's chief negotiator, gave an overview of the offer to the Nuu-chah-nulth. The offer includes a cash component of $225 million and 340 square kilometres of land (not including 4,378 hectares of existing reserve lands), and other provisions, such as governance arrangements that would provide the Nuu-chah-nulth authority to make laws in a number of subject areas and economic opportunities tied to resource sharing.
"This is not a final take-it-or-leave-it offer," said Proverbs. "We now have a daunting task in front of us as we agree that we should undertake intensive negotiations to finalize an AIP (agreement in principle) as quickly as possible."
Tseshaht chief negotiator George Watts presented the Nuu-chah-nulth treaty offer, which includes 3,336 square kilometres and a cash component totaling $950 million, among list that includes self-government agreements.
"Since the time of contact, our people have been willing to share, so we're here today to talk about what our Tyee Ha'wiih are willing to share with the non-Nuu-chah-nulth people," said Watts. "We're not here today to say yes or no to an offer, but to see where the two sides sit, and to start serious negotiations from there."
At the moment the parties sit about $640 million apart.
Watts spoke about the history of relations with the governments through colonization and oppression, and the difficult history of the past two centuries leading up to the start of negotiations only two decades ago.
"The question you have to ask is, have the non-Native governments done a good job, or are they part of the reason why so many of our communities are filled with poverty because the ability to govern ourselves was taken away from us," he said. "The only way that we will be strong Nuu-chah-nulth people is if we have our home, and our home is the West Coast of Vancouver Island and we want to preserve that for all future generations."
BC Treaty Commission chair, Miles Richardson, congratulated all people involved in the exchange of treaty offers built on what he saw as mutual respect and trust.
"The issues involved go straight to the heart of our communities. It's going to take time to build this new relationship," said Richardson. "With continued effort and good will, we expect to see an agreement-in-principle in the very near future."
Stanley Sam and Hudson Webster then opened the cultural component of the day's events with a prayer chant.
Nelson Keitlah welcomed everyone, and thanked them for witnessing the important events, and framed the treaty negotiations with a brief history of the two centuries of cultural oppression before four important songs and dances were brought out. Before each song was performed, Keitlah described the importance and history of the song, so that government, media, and members of the general public receive a glimpse into Nuu-chah-nulth history, culture, language, and life.