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Federal government delaying several treaties: BC Treaty Commission

Several British Columbia First Nations would likely have signed treaties by now with the provincial and Canadian governments if the federal government would negotiate fishing rights, members of the B.C. Treaty Commission said today while delivering their annual report.

“There are at least seven tables close to final agreements or agreements in principle that would move ahead rapidly in our view if fish were on the table,” said commissioner Jerry Lampert. “We're continuously speaking with the federal government trying to get some answers on this.”

Negotiating fishing rights has been slowed by the recent federal election and a review of fish stocks by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The affected groups include the Sliammon Indian Band, 'Namgis Nation, Northern Shuswap Treaty Society, K'omoks First Nation, Katzie Indian Band and the Winalagalis Treaty Group, Lampert said.

While there has been progress in general on treaties this year, chief commissioner Jody Wilson said in her introduction to the commission's annual report, “the pace is far too slow despite considerable investment.”

She pointed to the success of the Tsawwassen Treaty and the Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement as a hopeful sign that treaties can be reached. Another 12 tables are in the final two stages towards reaching agreements in principle. “This, of course, leaves more than thirty tables either in a holding pattern, stalled, pursuing other activities or inactive.”

A call to the Federal Treaty Negotiation Office in Vancouver was not returned by posting time.

Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong said reaching agreements requires all of the parties to work together. “We are beginning to see a measure of momentum. It doesn't exist at every table, that's for sure,” he said.

de Jong said he has a meeting next week with federal minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Chuck Strahl, and will raise the fishing rights issue. “We're hopeful we can move through this,” he said.

Premier Gordon Campbell said he did not want to comment on the commission's report without reading it, but he does not believe the federal government is stalling the process. “We're making very good progress with regards to treaties,” he said. “We've made some progress in British Columbia, we've got more to do.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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