[SISIS note: The following mainstream news article is provided for reference only. It may contain biased and distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context.]
Local First Nations bands took a look at the land claims deal offered by federal and provincial negotiators to the Sechelt band Friday, and there were strong misgivings. Per capita, said one member of the team representing South Island bands, it's no more than "a middle class salary for a year."
A particular sticking point was that the offer was contingent on the band members starting to pay taxes. Sechelt Band Chief Garry Feschuk speculated that was the price all First Nations might have to pay for a treaty. The Sechelt offer consists of 222 hectares of urban land, 126 hectares of rural land, 48.2 million in cash, and the transfer of 11 commercial fishing licences valued at 1.5 million.
It's the first offer to come out of the BC Treaty Commission. Some 44 native groups are now negotiating treaties with the commission to deal with BC's many outstanding land claims. It's less than the band asked for, and evaluation and consultation with members will take until the end of September said Feschuk. The land value is confidential, but the band had asked for twice as much land in a package worth 80-90 million dollars in land, cash and resources.
In return for the money, the 980 member band will start to pay transaction taxes in eight years and income taxes in 12. Feschuk said the band had argued vigorously against losing these exemptions and had proposed alternatives, but the government had not budged.
"This is probably the bottom line for every table," he said. "I think having other First Nations there to witness it was good, because that's the price all First Nations are going to have to pay if they want a treaty."
Linda Vanden Berg, an assistant negotiator with the Te'Mexw Treaty Association, the group representing the Songhees, Beecher Bay, Nanoose, Tsouk-ke, and Malahat bands, said the settlement offered too little money.
"Per capita, it's equivalent to a middle class salary for a year. What does that leave for future generations?" she said. She said that while the Te'Mexw association hasn't set its goals yet, it doesn't want an end to tax exemptions, and it wants the land to be reserved for natives in perpetuity, so that it can not be sold.
Vanden Berg said accepting the deal could leave the Sechelt worse off financially, especially given that the band's land could be sold under the treaty. "They're going to have less at the end of the day than they are at the beginning of the day."
Mel Smith, author of Our Home or Native Land, a book critical of government policy toward land claims, said it was too soon to tell exactly what was on the table. "My reaction is that the devil is in the details on all this stuff. I'm not going to pass judgement on it without reading the final agreement."