The B.C. treaty process is a long, sometimes frustrating, but worthwhile journey, Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong noted during the signing of documents this week transferring ownership of 10 properties to Vancouver Island First Nations.
The properties, which include a government liquor store site and the Provincial Capital Commission headquarters, are being transferred in advance of treaty settlements between the province and the Te’mexw Treaty Association. It will likely be years before a full treaty is signed.
But it’s better to go slowly and get it right than to go fast and get it wrong.
B.C. launched its land-claim negotiation process 20 years ago, and it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Agreements in principle have been drawn up, then rejected. Hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and loans have been assigned to First Nations to help with negotiation costs. The process has faced various legal challenges and has come under criticism by some aboriginal communities as well as non-natives. It’s a long way from completion.
So it’s encouraging to see positive steps in the negotiations involving the Te’mexw association, which includes the Songhees, T’Sou-ke, Scia’new, Malahat and Snaw-naw-as First Nations.
The complexity of the current process is in sharp contrast to the Douglas Treaties of the 1850s, of which ancestors of the Te’mexw groups were signatories. Today in negotiations, various points are debated, dissected and challenged. Sir James Douglas had a simpler approach as chief factor for the Hudson’s Bay Company — he presented documents to aboriginal leaders to which they affixed their Xs. They had no input, and language barriers would have limited their understanding of the content.
Douglas’s purpose was purchase land from the natives; oral histories strongly indicate that in at least one instance, the First Nations people thought they were merely agreeing to a peace treaty.
It’s impossible to erase a century and a half of misunderstandings and injustices, but the current treaty process is about the future, not the past. This week’s property transfers are important steps along the way.
Improvements and refinements to the process would be welcome — it is slow, it is complicated and it’s undoubtedly imperfect, but at least both sides are involved.
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