The treaty process in its current form legitimates a theft of land and violation of our basic human rights. What will our children say when they realize how we have sold out for a paltry $10,000, which is what is currently being discussed as an incentive to vote for the treaty? Why would we negotiate the limitations of our basic human rights to food, identity and the safety and viability of our future generations? The individualization of 'Namgis rights takes away from our inherent collective cultural traditions. We are first and foremost family members, clan members, tribe members and then individuals with rights. Our cultural practices revolve around collective leadership and cooperation. So the legal cementing of rights at an individual level infringes on our sovereignty and our way of thinking and being that is unique in Canada. This is yet another way the Government is trying to divide and separate us into the smallest unit so as to have maximum control with the least amount of resources expended in achieving this end.
We must ensure that any treaty encompasses our right to determine our own destiny. We should be discussing a common legal strategy in defense of treaty rights, but the current treaty speaks to the complete withdrawal of challenges to the processes between us and the government. This is like volunteering to tie our hands behind our backs, much like when we were prohibited by law to raise funds for legal challenges. The individuals that have been wronged in a meaningful way should be supported by our people, again, collective responsibilities that are integral to the strength of our way.
The fact that most non-‘Namgis economic development activities can be justified in taking from Aboriginal rights means that the First Nations have to fight for participation or control over industry within their territories. This should be done through political organizing. The fisheries are part of our right as First Nations belonging to this land. The fact that sports fisheries were allowed to continue operating this summer while the 'Namgis were waiting for their small share of a declining fishery is appalling. The management of the white 'authorities' has so far been proven to be a complete and utter failure. We can and must do better.
The proposed privatization of our communal lands on reserve territory would only serve to send us further into poverty. Sure the rich would get richer, but those who can barely afford rent payments under our current system would be forced into bankruptcy with the purposed changes in treaty, which include property taxes on our own land that would go to the Provincial government. So only the well off would benefit from such a system while the majority of less well off would be forced to pay the consequences. Do we really want to copy this aspect of Western land governance?
Current treaty negotiation documents speak of a 'special tax agreement' which boils down to us paying for the very land we own outright. The money would go to what I consider a foreign government that will run it through a system of bureaucracy before supposedly giving it back. But these services are already guaranteed currently. I say we keep money in our pockets because we know how to spend it better than any foreign government can. The answer lies not in the magic treaty process that will miraculously make us more proactive towards meeting stated economic goals or create jobs out of thin air. How these goals can become reality need not wait for the signing of a bunk treaty agreement that only serves to limit our lives and severely hinge upon our cultural freedoms as a people. Even the trumpeted Nisga'a citizens have largely viewed their signing as a mistake. They are soon going to be paying taxes on their own land! Not only are they taxed, but the money goes to the government not the First Nation, further taking away what little we are already owed through the Federal government's current fiduciary duty to us.
We have to keep in mind that a signed treaty under its current form will not guarantee that the federal or provincial government will not still be able to 'justifiably" infringe on our negotiated treaty rights. There is no sovereignty or permanence of our rights under the current Treaty process. Not only are we negotiating 85%+ of our territories away, after ceding this incredible amount through treaty, the federal government can later take even more away through any economic activity it sees fit and this is supported by the Canadian court system!
Why are we fast tracking through a process without proper consultation of community members? Just because there is low participation at meetings does not mean the members are at fault. Part of the consultation duty on the council is to ensure the proper information is given to the community. I have heard of stories of the avoidance of certain questioners, having members shot down because 'they are misinformed,' and where a lawyer glosses over the facts with legal jargon that no one else understands precisely because they want to maintain the elitist, backdoor negotiating policy that the BC Government is trying to facilitate with willing bands.
The money we get as settlement may seem big, but it is only a temporary influx of cash aimed at buying the surrender of our lands, the territories given to us by the Creator for our children and our children's children…till the end of time. They say it will help with economic development and we will be set after this because we will have 'certainty'. Well if we are tossed a bunch of money and not properly on our way to sustainable economic initiatives before we get this money it will go to waste anyway. It can be likened to not learning how to fish, but waiting for the government to hand us our catch, but instead of the usual one salmon we are being 'given' a one time bonus of a halibut, but then that’s it. Looking at it this way lets you realize that the resources, no matter how big, will mean nothing if we do not first stop depending on the government to hand us our destiny and learn economic development now before we agree to a treaty. We are in control, we can learn to come together and actively pursue a direction that lessens our dependence on the government. We can start community initiatives aimed at a more sustainable approach to our economic futures now. As can be seen through our cultural foundations as Kwakwaka'wakw, there is much power in community. When we come together we have resisted unjust laws such as the Potlatch Ban which was geared to take away our very identity and threatened our survival as Kwakwaka’wakw. This is one example of what we can accomplish if we come together and put our minds to it. Just look at our new big house, look at our religious soccer community, or the irresistible resurgence of families re-entering the potlatch system of governance. Why then would we settle for anything but the best in negotiations? Why would we sign a shoddy deal now at the expense of our children? We can do better and I say we engage the community actively and truly learn what the members feel about the process before rushing to sign a settlement temporary in benefit - even if it means knocking on every ‘Namgis door to find the truth!
And why are we getting propaganda in the mail for pro treaty news? We are paying for the 'yes' side of the equation, but I would argue that we are not being properly educated about the negative consequences of the current agreement. If we are exposed to the 'yes' side of the treaty process at our expense, doesn't the very democratic process demand that resources are allocated towards those who believe the current process needs major overhaul? An unfair one-sided representation of an agreement that has serious consequences for our future generations should be well balanced at the very least.
Let me speak to the 'anti-progress' comments that someone always responds to anyone against treaty. Not only do I view our nation as one of the most progressive culturally and economically, through my studies of our history as a people I know we can do so much better than what we are bargaining for currently. We are talking about the rights to our own resources and lands that the Creator gave US at the beginning of time, NOT the colonial government. The government would not spend $1 Billion on negotiations if they thought the land was theirs. Others say that I must be 'pro-Indian Act,' which of course is ridiculous, but I will respond anyway. As it stands currently, we are receiving monies as part of the Government's legal fiduciary responsibility, which means it is obligated to provide us with these services because of the infringement upon our lands and the decimation of our resources, namely the salmon and eulachon fishery which is part of the very foundation which our identity rests upon. I am not in favour of the status quo and continuing the dependence we have on the government. In fact, I am very much of the opposite opinion. I think we should show the world what we are made of by resisting the government’s economic power over us by controlling our affairs through a more sustainably oriented approach to living.
The recent visit from the Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was a show that the government wants to fast track our treaty. Out of all the First Nations in Canada he chose to come to us. This is because the government is watching our gung-ho leadership and is salivating. It has seen our current leadership being so pro-treaty that even when the majority of BC First Nations were questioning the legitimacy of the recent Tsawwassen Band's acceptance of the preliminary treaty vote, our leadership was one of very few coming out in full support. If you follow these events you will know the surprise that the other First Nations felt in response. One step further and I find the very coverage of this support in news articles at my doorstep as an advertisement from the ‘Namgis First Nation! I found an article in the Globe and Mail (which was not in the mailing), that is better balanced (Below). I feel these statements take the power out of our bargaining position. At another angle, think of the billion dollar surpluses the Federal government has been awash in for the past decade. It becomes obvious that they are trying to buy the surrender of our lands through short term payments so that they can start privatizing our lands, selling it off and start the taxation of First Nations. Things need to change fundamentally with the current process and until then, I proudly say no to treaty.
(Globe and Mail article)
New treaties raise hope but process still has harsh critics
August 2, 2007
VANCOUVER -- The family of Chief Bill Cranmer and members of the Namgis First Nation know first hand the damage done by the way things were.
In the days when British Columbia's indigenous people were considered fit only for assimilation, governments stripped away their land, virtually wiped out their language by shunting them to hated residential schools, and devastated their long, rich culture by outlawing the potlatch and carting off their treasured masks and artifacts to far-away museums and private collectors.
In 1926, to avoid being sent to prison for ignoring the potlatch ban, Mr. Cranmer's father, also a chief, was forced to renounce the ceremony, promising never to hold one again.
That long-ago humiliation still festers, and the Namgis continue to seek compensation for a loss that the younger Mr. Cranmer says "disrupted the whole economic structure of our people."
But now, according to the veteran native leader, it's a new era. It's time for the Namgis to stand up. And the way to do that is through a negotiated treaty.
"After all these years, a treaty will allow us to be a distinct people again within our traditional territory," Mr. Cranmer said. "No longer will we be under the Indian Act."
In fact, few seemed more enthusiastic at the historic urban treaty ratified last week by the Tsawwassen First Nation than the 68-year old chief of a people hundreds of kilometres away on the remote northwest shores of Vancouver Island.
"Their courage and vision is an inspiration to other first nations all across British Columbia," Mr. Cranmer declared.
Yet, for all his zeal, the chief remains a minority among B.C. native leaders.
Despite the mini-momentum of successful treaty ratifications by the Tsawwassen and Huu-ay-aht First Nations within days of each other, a large number of native bands in the province remain soured over the 14-year, billion-dollar process.
In addition to 45 aboriginal groups that have boycotted treaty talks from the beginning, 60 other bands still at the table have signed a sweeping "unity protocol" that there will be no deals unless governments change their negotiating tune.
Specifically, they want governments to end their insistence that all treaties must include the ceding of further aboriginal rights and land claims, an agreement to pay government taxes and a switch of native land ownership to the provincial system of fee simple.
For a growing number of native bands, these factors are non-starters, says Robert Morales, lead organizer of the unity protocol and chief negotiator for the Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group on Vancouver Island.
"The Crown still wants to control the agenda, while our resources disappear," Mr. Morales said. "They continue to deny that aboriginal title and rights exist."
These pivotal issues need to be hammered out at a huge policy forum, attended by both government and native leaders, he said.
"So many of us have the same concerns that it's time for the key players to discuss whether there is any way to move forward. There needs to be a breath of life to the process."
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, meanwhile, has spurned the treaty process since it was launched, arguing that treaties cut into aboriginal title already recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Nonetheless, UBCIC president Stewart Phillip has thrown his weight behind the unity protocol.
"The governments are seeking extinguishment of our rights. ...They're saying: 'Here's a bag of cash and a bit of land. Now get lost,' " he said. "The entire process is fundamentally flawed."
So far, the provincial and federal governments have rejected all calls for common negotiations at a big table, and Mr. Phillip predicts no more than a handful of treaties - if that - will be reached in the next year or so.
But that kind of talk doesn't deter Mr. Cranmer and the 1,800-member Namgis band. They are determined to reach an agreement-in-principle within the next few months. The longer it takes, the more resources disappear from their traditional territory, he said.
"You've got to be realistic in this day and age. Non-natives are here to stay and they're going to increase. If we wait and wait and wait, it's going to be even harder to negotiate a treaty," he said. "I don't think there's any other time in recent history when both governments have agreed to negotiate our land claims."
Governments can only hope that Mr. Cranmer's treaty enthusiasm is catching. As one federal negotiator put it: "Having spent all that money, with these first two treaties, are governments finally starting to collect the fruit, or are they flukes?"
At the moment, a process that caught the country's imagination early on for its bold goal to negotiate treaties in a modern age has precious little to show.