Treaty commission calls for political will

The head of the B.C. Treaty Commission wants her mandate extended one more year to see if the federal-provincial effort to settle aboriginal land claims has a future after two decades.

Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre wants her mandate extended one year

The head of the B.C. Treaty Commission wants her mandate extended one more year to see if the federal-provincial effort to settle aboriginal land claims has a future after two decades.

Chief Commissioner Sophie Pierre’s three-year appointment is set to end next March. The former chief and administrator of the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council in southeastern B.C. has tried to speed up progress since her appointment in 2009, a period that saw two treaties implemented and another signed.

As the commission tabled its 19th annual report Wednesday in Victoria, Pierre turned up the heat. She said treaty talks have become “just another program of government” where Ottawa in particular is holding up progress.

“We believe as a commission that with political will, with strong political direction, we could have seven treaties instead of two, right now, and we could have nine comprehensive agreements instead of the one that we have,” Pierre said.

After implementation of the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty in Metro Vancouver and the Maa-Nulth treaty on southwestern Vancouver Island, the Yale treaty in the Fraser Canyon was ratified as the federal government launched an inquiry into the state of Fraser River salmon stocks. That put fish negotiations on hold for all remaining treaties until the inquiry determines what fish there are to divide up.

Jerry Lampert, the federal appointee to the treaty commission, agreed with Pierre that federal negotiators have too narrow a mandate, and have to go back to Ottawa for approval of each area of agreement.

Pierre said Ottawa needs to turn its experienced negotiators loose to do their work, and take things off the table that are not going to be negotiated. If that doesn’t produce results, she said they should shut treaty negotiations down.

B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak attended the treaty commission news conference, a first since it was established. She said the province remains committed to reaching treaties, despite the B.C. government’s recent emphasis on non-treaty resource agreements.

Premier Christy Clark’s recent jobs plan included a target of 10 new non-treaty agreements with aboriginal people by 2015.

Resource agreements for timber, and more recently mine revenue sharing, have helped to keep the momentum for broader treaties going, Polak said.