Editorial: Bypassing B.C. treaty process pays off

Details revealed in a Business in Vancouver report on the recent land-sale agreement between the province and three Lower Mainland First Nations again show why some native bands are in no hurry to get mired in B.C.’s treaty process.

Reason: they don’t need to invest the time, money and resources in finalizing a treaty when they can negotiate business deals like the Jericho Lands purchase.

As reported in “Victoria paying bands $96m in Jericho Lands deal” (BIV issue 1382; April 26 to May 2), the three bands secured two Jericho land parcels totalling 38.8 acres from the provincial government for $480 million. That Jericho real estate jackpot comes with at least $96 million of accommodation funding to the bands from provincial taxpayers to, we presume, help with the complexities of the deal. Little wonder that the Squamish Nation is content to remain at Stage 3 of the six-stage treaty process.

It’s not alone in relegating treaty negotiations to business back burners. Since negotiations began in 1993, only two treaties covering six First Nations had, by the end of 2015, managed to navigate that multi-stage process to implement treaties.

Currently 65 First Nations representing just over 52% of B.C. Indian Act bands are participating in treaty negotiations. Treaty Commission negotiation support funding allocated to nearly 60 First Nations thus far: $656 million. Two treaties completed in two decades is a meagre return on that taxpayer investment.

That’s not to say the process has been without success. The Tsawwassen First Nation treaty has opened up a wide range of business opportunities for the band and its members.

But as the Treaty Commission itself noted in its 2015 annual report, it is concerned “that treaty negotiations have, in some circumstances, and for all parties, become an industry.”

That industry is doing little to advance First Nations’ ambitions to reclaim their economic destinies by establishing self-sustaining businesses and developing entrepreneurial innovation from winning and losing in the free-enterprise market.