A legal challenge launched by the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council won’t interrupt the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation treaty ratification process, Chief Dominic Frederick said.
Last week the Shuswap Nation requested a legal injunction to stop the Lheidli T’enneh treaty, which they claim encroaches on 10,900 sq. km of their traditional lands. The contested lands are in the area of Kinbasket Lake, Valemount and McBride.
Shuswap Nation co-chairs Chief Mike LeBourdais and Chief Wayne Christian said there are traditional Shuswap burial grounds and habitation sites in the area. If the Lheidli T’enneh treaty is ratified, the Shuswap will lose the legal right to claim it in any future treaty negotiations.
Chief Frederick said he doesn’t believe the Shuswap claim is a threat to the treaty.
“We’re not concerned about it,” he said. “And we have nothing against the Shuswap Nation, either.”
Frederick, Premier Gordon Campbell and federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Jim Prentice signed the Lheidli T’enneh agreement on Oct. 29, 2006.
Members of the 312-person Lheidli T’enneh First Nation will be voting on the treaty in Prince Rupert March 27, Vancouver March 28, and at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre March 29-30. Advance polls were held at the Native Friendship Centre on March 17.
To ratify the agreement, 50 per cent plus one of eligible voters will be required to give it 70 per cent or better support.
If the voters ratify the treaty, it will need to be passed by the B.C. Legislature and Parliament before becoming law.
The $73 million-plus deal, if ratified, would be the first modern treaty under the British Columbia Treaty Commission process. The First Nation will govern and own 4,330 hectares of former provincial and federal Crown land within the larger area claimed as traditional territory. The Lheidli T’enneh government will have municipal government powers, plus provincial powers in some areas including education.
Frederick said the area claimed in the treaty was selected over 13 years ago when the treaty process started.
“The area we have claimed was selected by the community by the elders of the community, many of whom are deceased now,” he said.
The elders and the community have been involved in forming the treaty since the beginning, he added.
“It’s a community-driven treaty and I don’t see any reason why is shouldn’t be ratified,” Frederick said. “[But] we won’t know until the end of the road.”