In August of 1996, the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs was mandated by the legislative assembly to examine and make recommendations on key issues arising out of the Nisga’a Agreement-In-Principle as they apply to the development of treaties across British Columbia. The Committee was also asked to look at how progress can be made towards treaty settlements with aboriginal people in a way that will benefit all British Columbians.
The Select Standing Committee’s report is the product of an extensive consultation process. The Committee traveled to 27 communities in every region of the province, holding hearings over a six month period and receiving 792 written and oral submissions. Following this, the Committee deliberated for three months to produce a report which achieved consensus on 72 recommendations covering 17 broad topics of concern. The report, entitled “Towards Reconciliation: Nisga’a Agreement-In-Principle and British Columbia Treaty Process” was released to the public on July 3, 1997.
The provincial government recognizes the hard work of the Committee and the effort made to reach a broad cross-section of British Columbians throughout the province, and is appreciative of the thoughtfulness and commitment of those making presentations as shown in the quality of both the written and oral submissions. The input of British Columbians is assisting the Province as we move ahead to resolve outstanding issues with First Nations and create economic and land use certainty in the province.
After a comprehensive review of the Committee’s report, the Government of
British Columbia has accepted all of the 72
recommendations made by the full Committee.
Many of the recommendations refer to areas of concern already being addressed by the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, and about half of the proposals have already been implemented in the day-to-day operations of the Ministry. To date, 36 recommendations have been implemented; 20 recommendations are being pursued with appropriate parties -- advisory committees, third parties, Canada, B.C. Treaty Commission and First Nations; and 16 recommendations will be implemented at the appropriate stage of the treaty process.
The first 34 recommendations of the report deal with issues arising out of the Nisga’a Agreement-In-Principle. Many of those recommendations, (for instance those dealing with certainty and third party compensation) deal with issues still being negotiated with the Nisga’a Tribal Council and the federal government. Those negotiations are near conclusion and the Premier has said he expects a final agreement to be concluded this year. Many of the recommendations in this section of the report are already embodied in the Nisga’a Agreement (such as those calling for the elimination of tax exemptions under the Indian Act, and recommendations about forestry, self-government, fishing and wildlife provisions). The Province remains firmly committed to the elimination of tax exemptions following treaties.
Issues arising out of the Nisga’a Agreement-In-Principle have important
implications for future treaties in British Columbia.
The provincial government accepts those recommendations as guiding principles to expedite negotiations of future treaties. The Province’s treaty negotiators will continue to work within provincial mandates designed to address the interests of all
The Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs heard from all parties in the treaty process about the need to streamline the process and make it more responsive to the needs of participants and addressed a series of recommendations dealing with capacity to participate in the treaty process, interim protection measures and community involvement. The parties to the treaty process are currently participating in a review process and have developed some significant recommendations for improving and streamlining the treaty process in light of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on Delgamuukw. British Columbia has tabled proposals which, if adopted, would move treaty tables through the process more efficiently and expeditiously.
Some of the Committee’s recommendations focused on groups outside of the treaty process. While committee members thought that priority of settlement should continue to rest with those groups in the treaty process, they recommended that the Government of British Columbia continue to talk with those outside of the process to keep the door open to their participation. The provincial government, along with the federal government, has been engaged in discussions for several months with representatives of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, who are not involved in the treaty process, to explore ways to respond to their concerns.
The Committee heard a great deal about the need for public education and information about the treaty process and land claims in this province. The provincial government fully supports the Committee’s recommendations calling for more community based education programs as a priority. As well, the Premier recently announced that there will be a province-wide information campaign to tell British Columbians about the Nisga’a Final Agreement. In addition, there will be a continued emphasis on public information about the treaty process in general.
Overall, the Committee’s report confirms that the Province is on the right track in its approach to negotiating settlement of land claims through treaties and affirms that there is strong public support to pursue completion of treaties that are fair and affordable. The report and recommendations of the Committee will greatly assist the Province as it follows through on its commitment to concluding treaties.