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Report will gather dust like many others.

VANCOUVER

First Nations involved in the treaty process are not viewing Doug Eyford's report, A New Direction: Advancing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, as anything other than a reiteration of known facts--and one more report to sit on a government shelf.

"A lot of what he's saying in his report is what we've been saying forever and a day," said Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First Nations Summit task group.

She agrees with Eyford's recommendation that "a whole of government commitment" needs to happen. She says right now neither Canada nor the provinces enter into negotiations with the same level of commitment as First Nations. "We need real negotiators at those tables with real mandates."

Eyford tabled his report with Aboriginal Affairs Canada Minister Bernard Valcourt in April. Eyford was appointed as ministerial special representative in July 2014 to review Canada's comprehensive land claims policy. He held engagement meetings between August 2014 and February 2015 with representatives of Aboriginal communities and organizations, provincial and territorial governments, and stakeholders.

"There is a conspicuous lack of urgency in negotiations and in many cases there are sharp differences between the parties about the core elements of a modern treaty," reported Eyford. There is "ongoing tensions between the Crown and Aboriginal organizations."

For Canada to show its "commitment to reconciliation," wrote Eyford, the federal government needs to address the institutional barriers and process inefficiencies that obstruct progress at treaty tables; needs to recognize at the outset of negotiations existing rights where title can be conclusively demonstrated proceed on that basis; needs to offer alternative reconciliation arrangements to comprehensive land claims agreement; and needs to improve the implementation of modern treaties and other agreements already in place.

Eyford said the renewal of the comprehensive land claims policy "is timely" as Aboriginal people represent the fastest growing demographic.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde says the only way to close the gap for the standard of living, which sees Canada ranked by the United Nations at six while First Nations within Canada are ranked at 63, is through treaties.

"That principle of Indigenous people, via treaties, that we were sharing the land and resource wealth, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect; our people didn't ask for poverty but that's what we see because we've been excluded from the development of the land and resources collectively," said Bellegarde.

Casimer says in BC, First Nations are seeing the province place more emphasis on shortterm economic agreements. She says the Summit has complained to the province that negotiators are being pulled from treaty tables in order to focus on liquefied natural gas agreements on First Nations, a development which benefits the province.

"They want to sit down and negotiate short-term arrangements right now," she said. "The state of the conditions that First Nations are facing today ... is dismal. If you can't generate ... your own source revenues in order to do the work you need to do to elevate your community to a higher standard then all you're left with doing is managing poverty under the Indian Act. And so you can't blame First Nations who are looking for ways in order to generate more monies, to bring revenues into the community to do housing, to do education, support social programming, create economic development opportunities, that's what shortterm agreements are offering."

But the immediate benefits that short-term arrangements bring need to fit into and support the longer-term agreements that are required to reconcile CrownFirst Nations interests, says Casimer.

"Treaties and comprehensive agreements provide long-term benefits. You acquire a land base in which you are the one who makes the decision about what happens on that land base, you can tax it, you can generate revenue, you can develop it, you can do whatever. You also acquire self-governing tools. You're agreement becomes constitutionally protected so you have something to support your future generations," she said.

But according to figures presented by Eyford, the average negotiating time for a comprehensive land claims agreement is 15 years. Since 1973, 26 modern treaties have been concluded and there are currently 75 comprehensive land claims negotiations across Canada at various stages of progress.

"Treaty-making has progressed at a glacial pace and at significant cost," said Eyford.

Many negotiations are embroiled in litigation, with AANDC named in 452 proceedings. AANDC has spent in excess of $ 100 million in legal costs over the past five years.

Bellegarde says that as long as the federal government continues to appoint special representatives nothing will be accomplished.

"... What is needed is direct, face-to-face discussions in which the federal government and First Nations are equal, committed partners. This is consistent with our nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship," said Bellegarde, in a statement. "We want real engagement on the path forward to lead to real results."

Bellegarde urged the government to move ahead on a new Comprehensive Claims Policy that includes the "implications of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Tsilhqot'in Nation case."

That decision, which was rendered in June 2014, recognized Aboriginal title in unceded lands and increased the requirements for consultation on development with First Nations. Canada has failed to publicly respond to the Tsilhqot'in Nation case, which said Eyford, "is seen by some Aboriginal groups as a purposeful omission and has fueled speculation that Canada will avoid addressing claims of Aboriginal title."

By Shari Narine

Windspeaker Contributor
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Title Annotation:news; Doug Eyford's report "A New Direction: Advancing Aboriginal and Treaty Rights"
Author:Narine, Shari
Publication:Windspeaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:889
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