Treaty talks for North Shore nation moving forward without LMTAC
The North Shore’s Tsleil-Waututh Nation will forge ahead with treaty talks this year, despite the recent disbanding of Metro Vancouver’s Lower Mainland Treaty Advisory Committee.
On April 2, LMTAC voted to dissolve itself and is now in the process of being replaced by Metro’s new Aboriginal Relations Committee.
The new initials mean more than just a rebranding of Metro’s aboriginal relations arm, according to ARC representative, treaty negotiator for the province and District of North Vancouver councillor Alan Nixon.
The change heralds a much needed “fresh start” after relations became strained between Metro Vancouver and First Nations like the Tsleil-Waututh, Nixon told The Outlook in an interview at North Van district hall.
What’s more, the comparatively pared-down 11-member ARC will also save Metro some cash — though how much remains to be seen — after funding LMTAC to the tune of about $340,000 a year.
“They needed to save some money,” Nixon said.
While it’s taken the Tsleil-Waututh, the province and Canada 16 years to reach Stage 4 of the six-stage treaty process, Tsleil-Waututh Chief Justin George said he believes that in 2012 some significant decisions will be reached about the band’s future on its current reserve lands on the banks of Burrard Inlet between the Second Narrows Bridge and Cates Park.
“At this point we almost have an agreement in principle and we’re about to consult with our membership and within the year I think some real formal decisions will be made,” Chief George told The Outlook in a phone interview.
According to Coun. Nixon, half of those principles have now been agreed upon.
Stage 5 of the treaty process formalizes the agreement in principle and resolves any legal issues remaining between the Canadian, B.C. and First Nation government. If and once that final agreement is signed, Stage 6 is entered and the agreement becomes a treaty, giving the nation full autonomy over the land.
For the fewer-than-500-member Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the heart of the treaty process is economics.
“The money has got to be there or we will walk away from it,” Chief George said. “Looking back in history, the economy is what was lost.”
He stressed that as an urban First Nation, similar to the Tsawwassen Nation which achieved treaty status in 2007, the potential for business development on a treaty-status Tsleil-Waututh Nation is huge.
“This is going to impact not just the next generation but the next 100 generations so you want to put them in a place of equality and a place of empowerment,” Chief George said. “And at the end of the day, the economics is what empowers you to deliver services, manage resources and capitalize on business opportunities.”
Far from cheap, however, the cost of the treaty process has required the Tsleil-Waututh to already borrow undisclosed “millions of dollars” from the provincial and federal governments, Nixon said. The interest on those loans will come due once the agreement in principle is reached.
And although Chief George stressed that the process could be dropped at any time if the Tsleil-Waututh’s economic future isn’t ensured, both he and Nixon said that once talks at the treaty table come as far as the Tsleil-Waututh’s have, there is almost no going back.
“But this is a major step and you want to make sure the foundation is there to create a stable nation,” Chief George said. “Until then, we have to tread lightly until that day is here.”