In 1990, then Premier Bill Vander Zalm's government broke with tradition and decided to go to the bargaining table to negotiate Native 'land claims'. The BC Claims Task Force, with representatives of First Nations, the province and the Canadian government produced 19 recommendations on how the three parties could begin negotiations, which in 1992 led to the BC Treaty Commission.
The six stage process describes the mandate of the BC Treaty Commission. As the impartial "keeper of the process", the commission decides when the three parties are ready to negotiate. For First Nations to meet the requirements of negotiations, funds are provided by Canada and the province, but allocated to First Nations by the BC Treaty Commission.
According to its 1996-97 annual report, a total of $28.3 million will be available in 1996-97. Eighty per cent of the fund is considered a loan. The other 20 percent is a contribution. With almost 50 First Nations at various stages of the negotiation process, there are concerns about system overload and about the future allocation of financial resources to meet the needs of First Nations that are entering the more expensive stages of treaty negotiations.
If requested, the commission can mediate disputes among the three parties involved. Conflicts about the ability to negotiate interim measures have haunted the commission. Interim measures are agreements that protect a range of interests dealing with proposed developments on First Nations' traditional territories that may affect treaty negotiations. The provincial government's position is that interim measures are not available until late in Stage 4.
The commission believes that negotiating interim measures is essential to the treaty process. The 1991 Claims Task Force report recommends that the parties "negotiate interim measures agreements before or during the treaty negotiations when an interest is being affected which could undermine the process." The commission believes that "interim measures are an important sign that the federal and provincial governments are committed to resolving land and resource issues." To date, difficulties in finding a resolution have propelled the commission to go public with its concerns.