New policy recognizing Aboriginal rights could accelerate B.C. treaty process

VANCOUVER — The federal and provincial governments along with the First Nations Summit have reached an agreement on a new policy approach that could accelerate the treaty-making process in British Columbia.

Treaty negotiations in B.C. have been plodding along since the early 1990s, with 11 agreements reached and another 28 in advanced negotiation stages.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says the changes mean First Nations will no longer have to give up their rights to self-government and negotiators will automatically recognize those rights.

Bennett says that change _ along with the federal government’s move to forgive or reimburse First Nations about $1.4 billion in legal costs _ may convince other Indigenous groups to come to the negotiating table.

The summit represents 65 First Nations involved in the treaty process, which is about half of all Indian Act bands in the province.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, which has opposed the treaty-making process over the issue of giving up Aboriginal rights, says in a news release it’s disappointed the policy doesn’t address the issue of overlapping territory between neighbouring nations.

Robert Phillips, a First Nations Summit political executive, says they’ve heard from many chiefs in and out of the treaty process that the issue of overlapping and shared territory needs to be dealt with and a forum is planned for next March to find solutions.

Bennett says she wants critics of the treaty process to read the policy changes.

“It will, I think, allay a lot of fears. We’re dealing with the cynicism that’s rightfully there of 150-plus years of broken promises.”

Phillips says he’s hopeful that the changes will lead to more treaties because the policy is based on principles from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

He says one of the biggest criticisms of the treaty process in the past has been lack of recognition of Aboriginal title.

This treaty process won’t be like a divorce separating the governments and First Nations, Phillips says.

“It’s actually a marriage where we can work together nation to nation with Canada and government to government with British Columbia.”

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