July 20th, 2024

Self-government comes for northwest B.C. First Nation in proposed treaty

By The Canadian Press on June 24, 2024.

Indigenous dancers perform the Salmon Dance on Indigenous Peoples Day at the Mungo Martin House in Thunderbird Park, in Victoria, Friday, June 21, 2024. The dancers and Indigenous elders were celebrating wild salmon and the recent federal government decision to ban open net-pen salmon farms in B.C. waters in June 2029. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dirk Meissner

TERRACE – A British Columbia First Nation has agreed to a draft treaty with the federal and provincial governments that would give it more than 38,000 hectares of land in the province’s northwest.

The proposed deal with the Kitselas nation is the first treaty with a B.C. First Nation in more than a decade and would give the band self-governing powers, while removing it from under the federal Indian Act.

If approved by nation members in a vote next year, the treaty could become law as early as 2028, constitutionally recognizing the nation’s rights to governance, harvesting, land ownership, resource management, and other benefits.

The treaty also includes $108.9 million from the federal government.

Both the federal and provincial governments would have to pass legislation after ratification by the Kitselas nation, before the treaty would come into effect.

Chief Glenn Bennett of the Kitselas First Nation says in a statement that he is pleased to reach a positive conclusion to the treaty process, which has been underway for decades.

“The Kitselas Treaty will grant us greater control over our future, including ownership of our lands, self-governance, and enhanced programs and services,” he says.

“With the financial settlement and freedom from the constraints of the Indian Act, together the citizens of Kitselas will create a better tomorrow.”

The Kitselas First Nation has a population of about 740 people with reserves and territory that surrounds Terrace and the Skeena River.

Once fully ratified, the First Nation would join eight others as the only modern-day treaty holders in B.C.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree said in an interview on Sunday, ahead of Monday’s ceremony announcing the deal, that there were “very intense conversations” around the negotiating table over the last several months.

He said there are still some “minor issues” that need to be worked on, but all sides have been able to “substantially conclude our negotiations.”

“So, I think there were some things that did have last-minute conversations, and we’ve agreed on a path toward concluding the treaty with some minor issues to be ironed out over the next few months,” he said.

Anandasangaree said the powers under the treaty are ones that the First Nation has inherently had, but are now being restored.

Premier David Eby told an unrelated news conference on Monday that he’s confident the treaty process will provide clarity around boundaries of First Nation land, and that his government will continue to work with neighbouring nations on treaties of their own.

“We do have to move forward with these treaties. We have to move forward with this clarification. Because without that, we’re going to fail to realize the prosperity that we should be bringing everybody along in agreements that lift all boats right across the province,” he said.

Anandasangaree said the federal government hopes it will be able to advance other treaties in B.C. “as early as late this year.”

“This is something that requires an enormous amount of commitment over sometimes decades, hopefully not that long,” he said.

“But it does require Nations to have trust in governments and I think for governments to build that trust.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2024

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