Ok, here’s how it’s going to go...I am going to complain about some stuff as I normally do, point out a some glaring inconsistencies, then I am going offer up a few suggestions and you are just going sit there and let it all marinate in your skull for a while.....just kidding, although I think most of this is true.
As you may or may not have heard, Canada intends to present final offers at most if not all of its negotiating tables this year. As usual, there is scant information on the merits of this proposal, but I think it’s safe to say that this idea appears to fall in the category of “Lead Balloon”.
“Take It or Leave It”
I have heard this statement a fair amount in the past 14 years. I have witnessed government officials put a lot of pressure on First Nation representatives to just sign the agreements that they are presented with with...no negotiation or even reading of the agreement expected. Am I surprised that there is a new policy directive for claims that seems to follow this ineffectual and underhanded approach? Not really, it seems to have been the norm for years, at least in other areas of AANC.
It’s a huge imbalance, my understanding of this murky business is that government officials get negotiation training, sometimes annually and it gets updated as new negotiation theories are introduced. With all those negotiators in the same room it’s hard not imagine that the same or similar tactics are being used against all First Nations. I see and hear strikingly similar negotiating experiences from First Nations in different regions of Canada regularly.
Nobody wants to be at the tables for decades, it’s usually not in the First Nation’s interest to continue to negotiate indefinitely as negotiation costs tend to chip away at any final settlements. Everyone at the table is aware of this, yet another thing that tips the scales against the FN side.
A friend from Akwesasne once suggested to me that First Nations negotiators should have similar “retreats” every year to discuss the state of negotiation tables as well as to also get training in negotiation strategy. What a great idea, it’s something that really should happen.
While we are at it, wouldn’t be great also if there was agreement on the FN side about the territories being claimed and negotiated? Even though there are mediation and dispute resolution mechanisms built into initiatives like the Treaty Process, there are still some lingering disputes between nations that are not being dealt with pre and post final agreement. I am not sure it’s in Canada’s interest to allow these outstanding certainty issues to fester in the process but then again, it doesn’t seem to be hindering anyone either.
Speaking of hinderances, its not clear that even arriving at final agreements means any kind of certainty to anyone. The Sliammon invested $10 million and 15 years to negotiate an agreement (which they admit doesn’t even really satisfy their interests) with Canada that was initialled in June of 2010. More than a year later there is still no ratification or confirmation by Canada. No one seems to know the source of the hold up.
Making Good on the Threat
I sit in anticipation to see exactly how Canada intends to walk away from all these tables if First Nations decide to not agree to all these proposed unilateral "final offers". Does Canada expect to abandon its outstanding lawful obligations to First Nations? Does Canada think that exacerbating land uncertainty and ever increasing compounding interest on century old valid claims is in the interest of Canadians? Is Canada truly prepared for First Nations to become even more alienated, frustrated and poverty stricken while resource extraction continues on disputed First Nation territories? Is the business community comfortable investing in this kind of climate? I suspect that the answer to these questions are all “No”. If this is right, then all of this tough talk of “Take It or Leave It” is nothing more than a poorly thought out “bluff” which has the potential to seriously backfire.