SMOKESCREENS FOR THE REAL ISSUES: TITLE AND RIGHTS

Yesterday I watched Christy Clark with real skepticism as she addressed the Chiefs and leaders at the BC Cabinet and First Nations Chiefs third annual meeting.  She was adorned with her usual First Nations shawl and being her usual vivacious self.  But the vivacity means nothing when there is no substance behind it. 

Three years ago, a BC Cabinet/Chiefs meeting was thrown together following the very significant Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Tsilhqot’in case to discuss the implications of the case.  The BC Government was still in the “we are reviewing this case and haven’t decided how to proceed” mode at that time.  Last year, little progress was made and seemed like a photo op for the Premier and the First Nations Chiefs/leaders.  This year it was another nothingness event on the reason these meetings were begin, that is title to land, water and resources.

Two years post Tsilhqot’in the BC Government should have developed a joint plan with First Nations on how the issue of aboriginal title would be dealt with.  Not a word of it in the Premier’s speech.  Yet all around her, the Enbridge pipeline decision to proceed has been set aside, First Nations are fighting Kinder Morgan and Site C Dam in court and on the land, LNG is still a big question mark.

Lax kw’alaams voted recently on a very unfathomable question that gives no one certainty.  “If the environmental concerns could be addressed, can we proceed with LNG?”  The question failed to outline what and how environmental concerns had to be addressed, what was the acceptable level of infringement on their rights, lands and waters and who would decide if the concerns were met.  Uncertainty reigns supreme in this province and we see little if any progress on the issue of title to lands, water and resources.

The Tsilhqot’in themselves entered into the Nenqay Deni Accord with the province that is a “comprehensive framework for longer term negotiations to reconcile their rights, interests and goals of the Tsilhqot’in Nation and BC in the Tsilhqot’in Territory.  There is a long way for them to go before they find lasting reconciliation.  It is very notable that this slow progress with BC is with a Nation that the court has ruled has title to a portion of their territory. 

There have been no other tables or negotiations established that would resolve title issues and instead the successes that you hear from the premier are along the lines of we have 45 economic and reconciliation agreements, 6 LNG revenue sharing agreements, 3 agreements under the Clean Energy Business Fund, 37 Forestry tenure agreements and are negotiating 700 other agreements. These agreements are nice, but they do not do anything to resolve the larger outstanding issues facing First Nations in this province and do not address the full potential of the First Nations in their territories. To BC, the number of agreements with First Nations measures success. We are a long way from understanding one another and the elusive reconciliation.

The Premier announced the $2.5 million dollar contribution to the BC Assembly of First Nations. (BCAFN).  They are working on regional strategic plans for economic development.  Economic development happens in the communities, in their lands and with their resources.  BCAFN plays no role in economic development in the communities.  They are a society and certainly can play a strong role in facilitation of political issues and relationship building, but in the end, it comes down to work by the community themselves.  This money would have been better spent going to the First Nations themselves to help do capacity building, feasibility studies, inventory resources in their territories and putting money into equity for a project.  I work with a lot of First Nations in economic development and they are always looking for money for infrastructures, soft costs, project feasibility and development and  capital.

What the Premier did not mention was how the province has cut First Nations out of the Clean Energy Industry in BC with the decision to proceed with the Site C Dam and the more recent proposed cuts to BC Hydro to the Standing Offer program which is the only opportunity to create clean energy. After the Site C decision, First Nations and the Clean Energy Industry had to fight to get small amount of clean energy purchased by BC Hydro every year and now that is to be reduced.  What would have gone a long way with First Nations was for the Premier to announce that no cuts would come out of the Standing Offer Program and First Nations could continue with their plans to develop clean energy in an industry that is within their values. 

The Premier also announced a $2 million dollar fund for First Nations to use with RBCM to return human remains and artifacts. The Premier was passionate about returning the remains to their families, their lands and rest in peace. “They should come home" says the Premier.  This is so hard to hear knowing that developments is a priority with the BC Government and disturbing burial sites is routine and First Nations have no say over leaving the remains in the grounds unless they mount a huge protest such as Musqueam and Grace Islet did.  Knowing that the BC Government issued permits to flood many graves in Site C for the Treaty 8 Nations makes the Premiers statements ring empty.  It is ok to bring remains home if they are in a museum or collection, but if they stand in the way of development we will inundate them or make you move them? There is a lot wrong with that.

The bigger issue of disturbing burial sites for development either on Crown Lands or private lands that still have aboriginal title on them remains unresolved.  Would this money not have been better spent establishing a fund for First Nations to have properties transferred to them that have the graves of their ancestors on them? If the Premier announced they would amend the Heritage Conservation Act so that First Nations burial sites would not be disturbed that would have been progress.

The Premier also announced $250,000 for the Moosehide campaign to be run by Paul and Raven Lacerte.. Does this initiative fit in with the #MMIW strategies? Were Families of MMIW consulted to determine if this is a priority solution to the issues facing violence against women?  Is this a one-time donation? Will a foundation be formed to run this campaign?  How will money be found for it in the future?  How does this affect the BCAAFC program that they run? There were many questions that ran through my mind as I heard this announcement.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Moosehide campaign has been a good thing but again, how do other preventative programs weigh up against this to prevent further violence against women and girls. 

The Premier made all these nice kinds of announcements which are only smokescreens for the key and critical issues that remain unaddressed.  Where are we on First Nations title in this province? What is the process going forward?  Today the Shxw’owhamel First Nation is filing their aboriginal title case in court.  They join others who have done the same.  The lack of inaction by the BC Liberal Government have caused First Nations to go to court to seek their reconciliation on title, rights, stopping projects, lack of consent. First Nations are either in court or on the land and we could have another Standing Rock here in BC on the Kinder Morgan pipeline due to lack of resolve on the major issues.

 We always hope for progress in a big way when the BC Cabinet and First Nations Chiefs come together.  We wait for the big announcements that never seem to come.  For all British Columbians, uncertainty, unrest, and lack of economic progress will continue as long as the BC Government continues to ignore the big issues of land, water and resources and focus only on social issues.  When will this government learn that the Chiefs need to see progress and positive efforts in order to take the time to spend at the BC Cabinet/Chiefs Summits.  Wouldn’t it be sweet justice if no Chiefs showed up next year because in the past year, nothing of substance has been achieved.

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