[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.]
Key players in B.C. treaty talks were meeting late Thursday to discuss the impact of a landmark Supreme Court ruling on efforts to resolve native land claims across the province. Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart, B.C. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dale Lovick and the First Nations Summit were to discuss a plan drafted by officials in the hope of reaching an agreement and moving talks forward. It was their first meeting to discuss the Delgamuukw ruling since it was handed down in December.
"Our past approach has been that everybody goes off and does their thing and then we hammer it out and argue and fight," she said. "[We're trying] to come together at the front end and see where your common visions are." The leaders will also consider whether the treaty process can be streamlined so the important issues -- land, for example -- are settled early on.
Stewart also hopes to expand talks to include bands that have not been part of the process. B.C. treaty talks now involve 51 First Nations representing about 75 per cent of the provinces 102,000 native Indians, but some bands -- particularly in the Interior --have been reluctant to participate.
Stewart said she will meet some of those today and Saturday. "We have to continue to encourage all First Nations to see this as an appropriate alternative, and there are lots of people working on that," she said during a meeting with The Vancouver Sun's editorial board Thursday. She said part of the problem has been communication. Some bands have chosen not to participate based on an incorrect understanding of how the treaty process works.
An issue that continues to be crucial in treaty talks is obtaining certainty, but the old requirement of "cede, release and surrender" -- an extinguishment of aboriginal rights -- is abhorrent to First Nations, Stewart said. Certainty means that once a treaty is signed, First Nations cannot return with further demands related to past grievances. Premier Glen Clark acknowledged earlier this year that new language about certainty is required to get a deal. The parties are now looking for other words and ways to ensure certainty that are acceptable to all, Stewart said.
"What I can say is that we are exploring options, but what I will also say is that we will insist on having the certainty that is required. Everybody wants certainty. This is one of the most important byproducts or results of the treaty process."
Stewart said treaty efforts in B.C. are currently focused on the Nisga'a. The Nisga'a tribal council signed an agreement in principle with Victoria and Ottawa nearly two years ago that would give them 1,930 square kilometres of land and $190 million in cash. About 2,400 Nisga'a people reside in four villages in the remote Nass Valley on B.C.'s northern coast, and 3,000 more live in cities such as Vancouver and Prince Rupert.