The Guardian June 28, 2000


Canada's indigenous treaty hits setback

by Kimball Cariou

The task of reaching just treaties for dozens of west coast First Nations 
(indigenous) peoples hit a new snag last month, when the Sechelt band gave 
90-day notice of its intention to take its claim to court. "The treaty 
process is on life support", Sechelt chief Gary Feschuk said.

Last year, the Sechelt were the first of 51 bands represented by the First 
Nations Summit to reach an agreement in principle under the British 
Columbia Treaty Commission process.

The latest version of the treaty would have seen the 900 member band 
receive $52 million, 933 hectares of land, 14 commercial fishing licences, 
and a large gravel pit operation.

In return, the Sechelt would surrender any future claims against the Crown, 
and give up their exemptions from federal and provincial sales taxes in 
eight years, and their provincial income tax exemption in 12 years.  

Feschuk said the Sechelt were not satisfied with receiving only one percent 
of their traditional territory, in the Sunshine Coast area north of 
Vancouver. More generally, the band fears that the treaty terms would not 
ensure a secure economic future for its members.  

The provincial Liberals and federal Canadian Alliance MPs, as well as 
various right-wing media figures, were quick to declare the treaty process 
"dead" or to demand that the Premier of the New Democracy Party government 
refuse to offer any improvements.

Typical was a June 1 Vancouver Sun editorial, which thundered that 
"Chief Feschuk must understand that British Columbians will not support 
treaties that smack of unfairness", and warned that popular support for 
Aboriginal rights is falling.

Given the constant attack against treaty rights in the corporate media, the 
government may back off from meaningful further negotiations in the Sechelt 
claim and others working their way through the treaty process.

As Aboriginal Affairs minister Dale Lovick said after the Sechelt decision, 
"This proposed treaty is as good as it gets."

One looming scenario may be a provincial election campaign in which all the 
province's three "major" parties, in varying degrees, resist any genuine 
progress towards resolving treaty claims. If only Green and Communist 
candidates give strong support to Aboriginal rights, it would be difficult 
for any new government to return to the treaty process in the near future.

Far too long

"The First Nations of British Columbia have been forced to wait far too 
long for justice, and the uncertainty over treaty settlements is having a 
negative impact on our economy", says the Communist Party leader in British 
Columbia, George Gidora.

"Those forces who want to impose stingy settlements on the First Nations 
are simply fanning anti-Aboriginal views, and that's an extremely dangerous 
game. The fact is that British Columbia's relatively high standard of 
living has been built largely on cheap resources which were never ceded by 
the First Nations.

"The reality of inherent Aboriginal rights must be recognised, and the 
people of British Columbia must demand that our elected officials negotiate 
honourably for a speedy and just settlement of all outstanding claims by 
the First Nations."

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People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper

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