Sechelt - Sechelt Indian Band Chief Garry Feschuk responded to Forest Minister David Zirnhelt's recent directive to forest companies advising them to ignore Sechelt's request to pay stumpage fees into trust or court pending the outcome of Sechelt's court case against the provincial government. "Once again BC's forest sector is being put in an untenable situation," Chief Feschuk commented. "By advising against respecting Sechelt's request to hold resource royalties in trust, the provincial government is creating a situation where forestry and other resource companies operating within the Sechelt's traditional territory could end up having to pay both the Sechelt Indian Band and the provincial government.
The key decision my people now have to make is "has the provincial government forced us to seriously compromise the economic viability of the major employers within our region in order to prove a legal and moral point.?" Recently Minister Zirnhelt had stated," The provincial government recognizes Aboriginal rights and the concept of Aboriginal title, and believes that negotiation, rather than litigation is the practical approach to determining the likelihood of Aboriginal rights and title. Unfortunately the Sechelt Indian Band has chosen litigation to achieve their goals."
"It is the provincial government that ended negotiations, not the Sechelt," Chief Feschuk responded. "It is the provincial government that adopted an arrogant 'take it or leave it' attitude rather than seriously attempting to negotiate a deal that would meet the reasonable requirements of the Sechelt people," he said. When the NDP were first elected in 1991, there were two sets of treaty talks already underway: the Sechelt and the Nisga'a. The Sechelt were told to submit to the BC Treaty Commission process or they would not be allowed to proceed. But the Nisga'a were allowed to proceed outside the established process. Today there is only one success in treaty making: the Nisga'a that was conducted totally outside the formally adopted tripartite treaty process. Sechelt on the other hand, got buried by that process.
When the Sechelt Indian Band finally did receive a Land and Cash Settlement Offer in August of last year, the provincial Chief Negotiator stated that it was a "take it or leave it" offer. Sechelt would either have to accept the totality of the offer or the provincial Treasury Board would withdraw it. Sechelt tried very hard to negotiate on a few remaining key issues. But even a meeting with then Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Cashore in November failed to yield any movement on the part of the province. "The bottom line is that the Province did not want to negotiate with Sechelt," Chief Feschuk said. "The irony is that we are now in a position to cost the provincial treasury far more without a treaty than with it."
With the provincial government unwilling to negotiate or compromise, the Sechelt Indian Band has had no choice but to litigate. Nonetheless, negotiation remains the clear preference for Sechelt. The question is whether or not the province is now actually prepared to negotiate. "Right now millions of dollars of taxpayers money is being frittered away on a treaty process that, with the exception of Nisga'a, is going nowhere fast," Chief Feschuk said. "In the case of Sechelt the Province is going to have to spend a fortune fighting our lawsuit when just a little bit of good faith and compromise they could instead achieve a treaty with us. And all the time that the lawsuit goes on uncertainty remains, investment declines and no one gains except the lawyers."
When asked what comes next, Chief Feschuk responded, "That depends on the provincial government. If they make it clear that they are now willing to negotiate in good faith then I think we can avoid a costly legal battle and achieve a treaty before the next provincial election. "With regards to resource sector royalities, the Band membership will be meeting in August in order to review our options. If there is no movement from the province, then we will have to take steps to ensure the Sechelt are compensated for the resources being taken from within our traditional territory," Chief Feschuk concluded.
[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.]
Sechelt Indians, the BC government and Ottawa have agreed to resume negotiations on the first urban land claim in BC and the band is expected to announce today that it will set aside a major lawsuit it had launched in federal court. The negotiations were virtually completed before talks broke down eight months ago. A source close to the talks refused to say whether either government had made major concessions to restart the talks. Ottawa had insisted that the Sechelt must give up traditional Indian exemptions from paying federal sales and income taxes, as part of any agreement.
The breakdown in the previous negotiations was a major blow to the land-claim process in BC, since the Sechelt claim includes 3,500 square kilometres of land on the Sunshine Coast north of Vancouver, with about 27,000 people living within the area. The federal and provincial offer, which the 900-member Sechelt band initially accepted and then rejected last year, included about $48-million in cash over several years, plus 220 hectares of land added to the band's existing small reserve near the town of Sechelt.