Chief Leonard Thomas of Nak’azdli wasn’t in attendance when the vote was taken, having had to leave the meeting early on March 28, but he was dismayed with the actions of the council.
“I wasn’t impressed with the resolution being passed at that particular forum,” said Thomas.
What has Thomas upset is the forum wasn’t for making any major decisions, it wasn’t an annual general meeting, it was to inform and discuss the CSTC position and to hear from community members.
Thomas wasn’t the only Chief absent at the time of the vote. Three other chiefs weren’t present, including Chief Thomas Alexis of Tl’azt’en Nation and Chief Robert Charlie of Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake). In total the CSTC has eight member nations.
The forum was held over two days on March 27 and 28.
Thomas doesn’t put too much faith in the CSTC’s decision to abandon the treaty process, since the final decision will be in the hands of the community members.
“At the end of the day it’s not up to the Tribal Council to make the decision, it’s up to each community,” said Thomas. “I would not recommend the Nak’azdli Band get out of the treaty process. I think it shows a sign of weakness.”
The CSTC hasn’t had a formal table with the federal and provincial governments in over three years, according to Thomas, because they made the decision to work with other First Nation groups they felt they could see results from.
David Luggi, Tribal Chief for the CSTC, points to the imbalance of funds between the CSTC and the governments as a reason to abandon the treaty process, especially when the issues don’t look to be resolved anytime soon.
“We’re really miles apart upon reconciling any of the issues that are up for negotiation,” said Luggi.
Since the CSTC applied to the BCTC for the treaty process in 1994, they have seen their total loan and contribution funding balloon to over $18 million.
$52 million a year spent on negotiations
Since the treaty process began, Luggi says the federal and B.C. governments have spent $52 million a year on negotiations (B.C. wide) and have a combined staff of 140, while CSTC has only an average of $1.5 million in loan funding to spend each year.
Fort St. James Mayor Rob MacDougall says the decision made at the treaty forum won’t affect the town’s relationship with the Nak’azdli Band.
“Regardless of what happens with the treaty process we will continue to build on our very good relationship with the Nak’azdli Band,” said MacDougall.
John Rustad, MLA for Prince George-Omineca, is confident the CSTC will not back out of the BCTC process, which he says offers the First Nation peoples stability and opportunities for a better future.
“I’m hopeful that they won’t back out of the treaty process, because I think it’s important they follow through to completion,” said Rustad.
Meanwhile, the BCTC’s first settlement with the Lheidli T’enneh Band near Prince George was rejected in a vote last Saturday night 123-111. The referendum needed a 70 per cent approval rate to be put into action. With 273 eligible voters, there were 234 votes cast.
Members of the Tsawwassen First Nation are to vote July 25 on their settlement offer
The Tsawwassen First Nation settlement was reached in December along with a third involving the Maa-Nulth First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Each settlement provides cash and Crown land settlements, local authority over education and child welfare, conversion of federal Indian Act reserves to fee-simple land ownership and phasing out reserve tax exemptions.
While the Lheidli T’enneh land settlement was challenged by two lawsuits from neighbouring bands as members prepared to vote, the proposed Tsawwassen treaty has had more positive signals.