Fact Sheet - Treaty Negotiations

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Why Is Canada Negotiating Treaties with First Nations in British Columbia?

The federal government is negotiating treaties in British Columbia (B.C.) in order to resolve questions of uncertainty with respect to land ownership and usage, the management and regulation of lands and resources, and the application of laws. There are historical, legal, economic and social reasons for negotiating treaties.

Historical reasons and considerations

The Canadian Constitution decreed that First Nations should not be disturbed in their use and enjoyment of the land. It also declared that only the Crown could acquire land from First Nations, and only through treaty-making. The Canadian Constitution set the framework for negotiation based on co-operation rather than conquest.

Treaty making soon became the main mechanism for defining the relationship between First Nations and other Canadians.

However, the last of the historical treaties was signed in 1923. At that time, the federal government made it a criminal offence for a First Nation to hire a lawyer to pursue land claims settlements.

Consequently, treaties were never concluded with First Nations in some parts of Canada, including most of B.C. The only treaties to be completed in the province were the Douglas Treaties on Vancouver Island, and Treaty 8 in the northeast corner of B.C.

With so few treaties in B.C., the claims of B.C.'s First Nations have never been negotiated. The result is uncertainty with respect to land and resource ownership, use and management. This uncertainty hinders First Nations' efforts to achieve self-reliance and also takes a significant toll on B.C.'s economy.

Negotiated treaties will set out and describe in detail how the rights will be exercised. Negotiated treaties will set out First Nations' jurisdiction over their own affairs through self-government provisions, create an improved foundation for viable First Nations economies, and bring certainty to land and resource use and ownership in the province. This certainty will help to establish a framework for sustainability that will have positive effects for all Canadians.

Legal considerations

Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution, Canada's supreme law, states: "The existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed." The Constitution did not create or define Aboriginal rights. Rather, it "recognized and affirmed" existing Aboriginal rights.

In addition to constitutional protection of Aboriginal rights, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled several times on Aboriginal rights on several occasions and found that Aboriginal rights exist in law.

Neither the courts nor the Constitution provides a clear definition of Aboriginal rights. The Supreme Court of Canada has encouraged all parties to seek resolution of these matters through negotiation. Litigation, the alternative to negotiation, can be more costly, adversarial and time-consuming. The outcome is also much more unpredictable.

To benefit Canada's economy

Uncertainty about the existence and location of Aboriginal rights create uncertainty with respect to ownership, use and management of land and resources. That uncertainty has led to disruptions and delays to economic activity in B.C. It has also discouraged investment.

The consequences of not concluding treaties will be lost economic activity as well as escalating court costs and continued uncertainty. Key benefits of negotiated settlements are economic and legal certainty as well as harmonized arrangements between the different levels of government.

To strengthen Canadian society

The socio-economic conditions of First Nation communities lag behind other communities in B.C. British Columbians and other Canadians have said that they would like to see improvements in these conditions.

The conclusion of treaties will help provide First Nations in B.C. with the economic and social tools for self-reliance and the capacity to identify and implement their own solutions to difficult economic and social problems. As well, the province's overall economic and social well-being will benefit from strong, self-reliant First Nation communities.

About the B.C. Treaty Commission process (BCTC)

In 1993, the federal and provincial governments and the First Nations Summit launched the B.C. treaty process and established the B.C. Treaty Commission which is referred to as "the keeper of the process." The BCTC coordinates the start of negotiations, monitors progress, keeps negotiations on track, provides information to the public and allocates funds to support First Nations' participation.

There are six stages in the B.C. treaty process:

The end result: mutual understanding and certainty

By settling land claims through modern-day treaties, governments and First Nations reach agreement on:

Ultimately, the result of successful treaties will be certainty for all British Columbians.

The role of consultation and public information

Consultations are vital to the success of negotiations. In B.C., treaty negotiations are supported by extensive consultations with third parties. Third parties are those individuals and organizations who have an interest in the outcome of pre-treaty and treaty agreements and whose interests may be affected through the negotiation or implementation of treaties. Consultation takes place on two levels – on a province-wide or sectoral basis and on a regional and local basis.

Public information increases awareness of the complex issues underlying the treaty negotiation process and of the progress of negotiations. Public information also provides for more informed decision-making. This allows community members to review, assess and comment on the implications and merits of treaty negotiations.

Chronology

Want to know more?

More information is available on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Website and through a series of published fact sheets. For more information or to arrange for a guest speaker, contact:

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada,
600-1138 Melville Street,
Vancouver B.C. V6E 4S3
Telephone: (604) 775-7114
Toll Free: 1-800-665-9320
Fax: (604) 775-7149
Email : bcinfo@aadnc-aandc.gc.ca

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