VICTORIA Premier Gordon Campbell’s aboriginal rights recognition project is heading into a summer of regional sessions with chiefs around B.C., and as expected it’s in for a rough ride.
The first session in Prince George May 28 featured an outright rejection by the Squamish Nation, one of the four host first nations of the 2010 Olympics.
In a May 26 letter to the senior chiefs who negotiated the latest deal, Squamish Chief Gibby Jacob said “we cannot support the legislative initiative in its current form.”
Jacob listed several points that sum up the main objections from the aboriginal side of the table.
The aboriginal title Campbell is offering to recognize province-wide “is not the full aboriginal title recognized by our laws or by the Supreme Court of Canada .”
Revenue sharing for economic development is “ill-defined.”
Decision-making on land and resources is not really “shared,” as it leaves the Crown with the final say and protects existing tenures such as forest licences.
The proposal to reorganize 203 B.C. aboriginal bands into two dozen Indigenous Nations “is inconsistent with our history.”
Defending the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act are the senior chiefs who hammered it out, upsetting mining and resource companies with the notion that native leaders would no longer have to prove their territorial claims in court. The Campbell government is offering to concede that, in exchange for a more streamlined system to make development decisions.
Grand Chief Ed John reminded the closed session in Prince George that Campbell “didn’t just change his mind out of the goodness of his heart. Eight years ago we were fighting him on a referendum on our treaty system.”
What changed was B.C. lost two more crucial court cases, called Haida and Taku, as John told Campbell at their next meeting. That resulted in the “new relationship” of 2005, which begat the legislation now being drafted in Victoria.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip recounted the direct action that was accompanying negotiations and court challenges. B.C. announced changes the Forest Act without consulting aboriginal people, so Phillip and two others “crashed” their press conference. That led to the interim forest harvest agreements with aboriginal people that now dot the province.
“In 2008 we put out the Coordinated Action Strategy,” Phillip said. “That called for blockades, for targeting the 2010 Olympics. We had a meeting set up with the government for the next day.”
My transcript for this in-camera meeting was provided by another vocal critic of the recognition law, Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief David Luggi. He argues that aboriginal groups are doing much better in court than they are in the premier’s office, and that Campbell’s proposed legislation is mostly about certainty and stability for the government and industry.
Other critics have said the province is overstepping its authority, that it can’t radically overhaul aboriginal rights and title without the federal government’s involvement.
So what’s the federal government doing? In a speech in Ottawa last week, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl outlined a new “partnerships” approach to the latest increases in federal funding to aboriginals. For economic development, new assistance will go to First Nations that make deals with the private sector.
That’s the same rationale given by the Campbell government for its recognition legislation. In the short term it would attempt to get development, revenue sharing and jobs going so there will be viable aboriginal communities to argue over in the future.
Ottawa and Victoria finally appear to be heading in the same direction, but they have a long way to go.
Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers. email@example.com