December 13, 1997
VANCOUVER (CP) -- A major land claims ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada could slow the already turtle-like pace of treaty negotiations in British Columbia, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore suggested Friday.
The landmark decision released Thursday by the country's highest court reaffirmed the concept of aboriginal title and rights for natives.
The ruling -- known as Delgamuukw -- involved a claim begun 13 years ago by the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en bands in northwestern B.C. The highest court also ordered a new trial in the case.
It said aboriginal rights could not be extinguished by provinces and strongly emphasized the importance of "consultation" among all interested parties in negotiating land claim treaties.
Cashore, however, suggested that the idea might prove troublesome given the multi-party style that is part of the B.C. Treaty Commission talks.
"This is an area obviously where we in government are going to be examining that finding closely," said Cashore.
"In the judgment it gives some definition in regard to consultation with First Nations, but we must not lose sight also of the importance of consultation with all parties who may be affected."
Cashore was referring to the municipalities and various economic interests, such as logging and mining, entrenched in most parts of the province.
"That's a very important question, and I'm not going to duck that question. But I'm going to take some time to discuss that with my colleagues," he said.
Cashore also steered clear of addressing what effect the ruling might have in luring non-participating First Nations in B.C. to join the treaty commission process.
"The (SCOC) decision is significant for all bands, within or without the process," he said.
The SCOC ruling has particular significance in B.C., because, with the exception of a small portion of Vancouver Island and the northeastern section of the province, treaties were never signed with Aboriginal Peoples.
In 1990, the federal, B.C., and First Nations Summit set up the treaty commission to oversee and coordinate treaty negotiations. It involves a six-stage process, culminating in the implementation of a treaty.
There are now about 51 First Nations in the province, representing about 70 per cent of the province's 102,000 Indians, taking part in the treaty process.
Brian Mitchell of the commission office said as of Friday that 30 of the 51 First Nations are in the fourth stage, which involves negotiating an agreement-in-principle.
None of the treaty commissioners were available Friday to comment on the effect of the SCOC's decision on the treaty process, nor were members of the First Nations Summit that speaks for bands involved in the treaty process.
But the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs expressed doubt the SCOC ruling would encourage bands outside the process to join.
The major complaint of the union, which speaks for some of the non-participating First Nations, is that the treaty commission involves too many parties -- some individual bands, tribal councils, economic interests, municipalities, and the federal and provincial governments.
The union and other non-participants have insisted on "nation-to-nation" talks, specifically the federal government and a tribal council.
Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos First Nation indicated Friday that some outsiders are studying the treaty process and the Delgamuukw decision closely.
The Osoyoos First Nation is part of the Okanagan Tribal Council, which has shunned the treaty process.
"We are monitoring what is going," he said.
Cashore expressed hope the ruling would encourage non-participants to join the treaty process.