Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Fervour builds for First Nations deals in wake of titles ruling

Attempts by the B.C.
Attempts by the B.C. government to build long-lasting relationships with First Nations across the province have taken on even greater importance with the historic Supreme Court of Canada ruling that makes it easier for aboriginals to establish title over their traditional territories.

Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad said B.C. will continue negotiating hundreds of side deals with First Nations and holding land-claims treaty talks, despite the court ruling granting the Williams Lake-area Tsilhqot’in Nation title to about 1,750 square kilometres of lands.

Aboriginal leaders are hailing the court decision as the big equalizer in government-to-government relations, but Rustad said he’s not retiring the government’s start-small, think-big approach when it comes to forging ties.

“Eight or nine years ago, the province had virtually no agreements with First Nations,” he said. “Today, we probably have, just on the resource side alone, over 200 significant agreements and another 100 or 200 minor agreements. That doesn’t include all the other types of agreements we have in education, health and social services.”

After 20-plus years of negotiating, there are four final treaty agreements among B.C.’s more than 200 First Nations. Many First Nations in B.C. have yet to settle treaties other than about a dozen agreements on Vancouver Island that date back to pre-Confederation. The Treaty 8 First Nations in northeastern B.C. signed a treaty in 1899.

The Nisga’a of northwest B.C. negotiated a modern-day treaty in the late 1990s after more than 100 years of attempts.

Building relationships with First Nations in B.C. often starts with small gestures, Rustad said.

Such efforts have amounted to big payoffs, he said, with hundreds of protocol meetings the result. Billions of dollars in potential revenues are at stake in plans to develop liquefied natural gas and other resources on some lands First Nations consider their traditional territories.

It takes time and effort, but the present-day land deals, economic arrangements and environmental protocols will stand as examples of what could be available once final treaties are negotiated, he said.

“Our goal is not litigation,” Rustad said. “Our goal is through negotiation. Over the years there’s been lack of trust. … You start by taking small steps.”

Former Vancouver Island chief Judith Sayers said she senses the government is only interested in developing relationships with First Nations rich in resources or LNG potential.

She said the government resists power sharing.

“There hasn’t been a willingness to push the big items that are stopping development,” she said. “I think the priority of the First Nations have been being able to exercise their rights and title without negative impact.”