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B.C. brews over action plan.

Windspeaker has obtained confidential documents that suggest British Columbia's Liberal government is switching gears in the way it deals with First Nations people and their constitutional rights and title to the land.

In a memo that B.C. chiefs were told was "not a public document," First Nations leaders were updated on meetings that representatives from the First Nations Summit, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations were having with the province. These talks centred around the implementation of Supreme Court of Canada decisions--Delgamuukw, Taku River and Haida--that deal with Aboriginal title and the right of Indigenous peoples to be consulted about resource harvesting activities on their traditional lands.

The memo states the province recognizes that its Aboriginal consultation policy, unilaterally developed and imposed by the government, doesn't work anymore in light of these decisions, and that Premier Gordon Campbell himself has expressed an interest in developing a new policy that will 'do it right, this time.'

Discussions were held, the chiefs were told, on "how to bring about reconciliation through substantive change and develop an effective framework for consultation and accommodation.

"We insisted that discussions be premised on respect, recognition of Aboriginal title and rights, including the inherent right of First Nation's governance, and accommodation. We discussed the need for shared planning and decision making, as well as benefit and resource revenue sharing in order to establish an effective government-to-government relationship and a meaningful process for consultation and accommodation," the memo read.

Included with the memo was a five-page document entitled "A New Relationship--Implementation of Supreme Court of Canada Decisions."

The document outlines a 10-point action plan that will create "new institutions or structures to negotiate government-to-government agreements for shared decision-making regarding land use planning, management, tenuring and resource revenue, and benefit sharing."

A copy of a letter from government negotiator Lorne Brownsey, the deputy minister in charge of the Treaty Negotiation Office, was also sent to the chiefs for review.

The letter was addressed to the 14-member Deputy Ministers' Committee on Environment and Resource Development. It informed members that the sides had reached "a general consensus on a draft vision statement."

"It is my belief that these talks and the subsequent work will move British Columbia forward in a significant way on the path to reconciliation with First Nations," Brownsey wrote. He said he hoped that a "new relationship will emerge between First Nations and the province that will mean a greater degree of stability and co-operation for resource management in the province."

Later adding, however, that "this agreement is not meant to be signed or to represent a definitive statement of what the future may look like."

Brownsey also cautioned all the deputy ministers to "proceed with care with an enhanced attention to First Nation consultation."

Not all First Nations rights advocates are happy with the action plan.

In an e-mail message forwarded to Windspeaker from traditional Haida leader Guujaaw, whose people are involved with a dispute over logging on their traditional territory, wondered why the elected First Nation leaders would trust the Gordon Campbell government, given its track record on Aboriginal issues.

"Over the past six years we have fought through the courts to establish that we have rights which were not given consideration by the provincial government. The Supreme Court of Canada had to rule that the province had a 'diminished view of honor,' and could not run roughshod over the interests of our people."

Guujaaw pointed out that it wasn't long ago that the B.C. Liberals outraged Aboriginal people in the province.

"This government also passed a referendum that would limit a treaty to five per cent with a full surrender of title, no protected areas of their own, no special rights, an obligation to pay tax. And now they are running an election boasting of the money they have derived off our lands." (The provincial election was held May 17 with the Liberals returning with a second majority.)

Dr. Taiaiake Alfred, a long-time Aboriginal rights activist, also took a dim view of the plan, slamming it on his Web site.

"This new relationship will see the Aboriginal organizations virtually folded into provincial government agencies in the jurisdictional areas around land and 'resource' planning," he wrote. "It is becoming very clear that there is no longer any political representation of Indigenous nationhood in British Columbia."

By Paul Barnsley

Windspeaker Staff Writer

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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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