Feb 5/98: Minister refuses to halt development


Vancouver Sun
February 5, 1998, p. A6
Stewart Bell

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

A demand by BC Indian chiefs that development be halted on lands subject to tribal claims was rejected by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore. Cashore said such a move would be "irresponsible" because it would send the wrong signals to investors and "could harm investment or job creation in BC." Calling the Indians demand a negotiating tactic, he added: "We intend to carry on with our responsibility, which is to keep the economy vibrant and healthy."

Last weekend the First Nations Summit demanded the province stop issuing Crown logging and other resource permits until the implications of a recent court decision can be sorted out. The chiefs also called for changes to the way aboriginal are being settled in BC in light of the Supreme Court of Canada's Dec.11 ruling in the Delgamuukw land claim case. In that ruling, the court significantly broadened the definition of aboriginal land rights, although there's confusion over what that means in practical terms.

But while the chiefs seem to have lost the battle to stop new logging activity in their traditional territories, both the federal and provincial governments appear willing to talk about changes to the treaty process. In an interview Wednesday, Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart agreed the treaty process may need changes to reflect recent court rulings, encouraging more bands to participate and make it more streamlined. Stewart said she also wants to meet with the province and chiefs to discuss the issue. Although no meeting has yet been scheduled, "obviously it's a priority for us because this initiative is so critically important to everyone," the minister said from Ottawa.

Canada and BC began land claim negotiations with tribal chiefs in 1993. But the court judgment in the Delgamuukw case has thrown the talks into disarray. The ruling has created mounting pressure to modify the way land claims are being settled. The BC Treaty Commission, which referees land claim talks, urged Ottawa and Victoria last week to meet with chiefs to decide how treaty talks need to change - a view later echoed by the chiefs. On top of their other demands, the chiefs also reasserted their claim to aboriginal title of all BC last weekend. They also demanded a full accounting for all past alienation and uses of their territories and resources.

The concept of aboriginal title remains unclear. The Supreme Court of Canada has described it as an "underlying title" possessed by aboriginal people as a result of their historic occupation of the land, but hasn't specified what type of title that may be, except to say that it's something less than the fee simple title held by private owners of property. Cashore agreed there's a need to talk about changes to the treaty process in light of the court ruling. "It behooves us to review how the process is fulfilling those kinds of court directions." Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit said he was encouraged by Stewart's approach. But he said he had not yet had a detailed response from the province.

Letters to the Vancouver Sun: sunletters@pacpress.southam.ca

Back to SIS