The Vancouver Sun
February 13, 1997
By Stewart Bell
Article posted at http://www.southam.com/vancouversun/news/970213/783820.html
The B.C. treaty-making process is "programmed for failure," the chief of the Sechelt Indian band said Wednesday as talks with the federal and provincial governments teetered on the verge of collapse.
Calling the three-year-old land-claims process a fraud, Sechelt Chief Garry Feschuk threatened to temporarily halt the talks and gave B.C. and Canada one month to come up with a better offer.
"The B.C. treaty commission process is doomed if your present attitudes continue," Feschuk said in an interview. "If there is no change, I do not see how this continued drain on our band's time, energy and financial resources can be endured."
Although the chief's statement could be attributed to posturing, it is also a sign of the frustration among some B.C. tribes over the pace of treaty talks. It has been exactly a year since the landmark Nisga'a deal was reached and there has not been a second settlement.
The anger of the Sechelt is surprising since the band is viewed as one of the most moderate in the province and was rumored to be next in line for a treaty. The 900-member band has asked for a cash-and-land settlement valued at about $84 million.
But talks have stalled over several fundamental issues. The Sechelt want to keep their tax-exempt status, while Ottawa wants it phased out. The band also wants to be compensated for past injustices, which is a non-starter with B.C. and Ottawa.
The Sechelt also argue that federal and provincial negotiators are trying to use the Nisga'a deal as a "cookie-cutter" for their treaty -- a complaint that other tribes around the province have expressed.
"They seem determined to use the Nisga'a AIP [agreement in principle] against us . . . . Until we indicate our submission to your dictatorship, nothing will be placed on the table. If we are good boys and girls, you might throw us a bone. To hell with you!"
Bill Lafaux-Valentine, chief negotiator for B.C., said the chief's comments point to a "real fundamental disconnect" between the parties at the negotiating table.
The province's position is that treaty settlements should not focus on what happened in the past but rather should seek to build a new relationship between aboriginal tribes and government. He said government negotiators were able to talk the Sechelt out of halting the talks, and negotiators from B.C., Ottawa and the tribe plan to meet next week to try to resolve their differences, perhaps with the help of a mediator.
Chief federal negotiator Robin Dodson said Feschuk's "ultimatum" came as a surprise but said it would have no impact on Ottawa's approach to the talks.
Dodson added it was "nonsense" to suggest the Nisga'a deal is being imposed on other tribes.
Meanwhile, top tribal chiefs from B.C. met with cabinet members Wednesday to discuss the province's land-claims process, which is facing mounting criticism from bands angered by what they see as a lack of progress.
The treaty-making process is doomed unless government attitudes change, leader says.
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