June 2005

A couple of interesting things have occurred over the last two of months. The first involves the recently agreed upon document titled A New Relationship drafted just prior to the provincial election. Groundwork for this document was carried out by the Premiers Office, the Treaty Negotiations Office in discussions with the Leadership Accord, involving representatives of the major BC Aboriginal political organizations (AFN, UBCIC and Summit).

On May 4th, Vaughn Palmer described this process in an article titled Liberals quietly ponder dramatic changes on first nations front. The draft New Relationship document outlined a government-to-government relationship between the Province and First Nations. Palmer described how the document sketched out a 10-point plan that would transport the government well beyond positions it had taken previously. It included steps like developing new institutions or structures to negotiate government to government agreements for shared decision-making regarding land use management, tenuring, resource revenue and benefit sharing, as well as involving the recognition of the economic component of Aboriginal title.

In addition, the document outlined a plan to identify institutional, legislative and policy changes to implement this vision and action items including a plan to revisit the contentious Forest and Range Agreements (FRA). The New Relationship document may be an direct attempt by the Provincial government to follow the direction received from all levels of Canadian courts requiring consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal people whenever land and resource decisions are contemplated on existing Aboriginal title lands. Several of the concepts addressed within the document address these, however the actual outcome of these discussions and the New Relationship remain to be seen.

Another point of interest, somewhat related to the above, has been a significant Supreme Court of British Columbia decision on May 10th between the Huu-ay-aht and the Province. The Huu-ay-aht successfully challenged the Forest and Range Agreements (FRA). The Court held that the Ministry of Forests through the FRA failed to meet the Provinces constitutional duty to Aboriginal peoples. The Province developed the FRA program for Indian Bands as an in-house effort to address the legal obligations of consultation and accommodation in relation to forestry matters while attempting to create legitimate avenues to access timber and also to maintain sole decision-making authority.

The program set out a resource and revenue sharing formula based upon a per capita basis of approximately $500 per person and a one-time allotment of timber volume. This did not address the underlying Aboriginal title or adequately consider the extent of forestry operations within designated areas.

This approach has also received criticism by Aboriginal peoples and political organizations as playing upon the poverty of Aboriginal communities. It has also been viewed as a divisive tactic by targeting federally developed Indian Bands and having these designate their territory or area of interest which, in fact, exist within larger tribal territories. Regardless of the espoused New Relationship approach toward reconciliation, doubts are once again quickly raised with the Provinces recent actions to appeal the Huu-ay-aht decision.

Cathy Narcisse First Published in Bridge River Lillooet News June 2005
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